It’s a formula that, when followed, has been uber-successful for West Virginia. A key turnover against Maryland that turned into a score, a touchdown after a missed field goal at Texas, a late forced fumble recovery with which the offense gained the necessary first downs to run out all 3:55 left on the clock. But when the Mountaineers haven’t capitalized, either on opponent mistakes or favorable circumstances, it has doomed them to close losses. The lack of ability to defend 94 yards late in regulation against TCU, or get a stop with half the field to cover for Oklahoma – again late in regulation.
“We have to take advantage of every opportunity, no matter if it’s turnovers or scoring opportunities,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “You just can’t predict a score. You just try to take advantage of every opportunity.”
It has been the backbone of Syracuse’s recent success, both in beating the Mountaineers and winning five of its last six this season. In the 2010 regular season series game in Morgantown, Syracuse used a 3-0 turnover advantage, all interceptions, for key points in a 19-14 upset. Last year, West Virginia forced Syracuse into 17 third down situations. But the Orange converted 12 on the way to a 49-23 blowout in the Carrier Dome. Consider, too, that of Geno Smith’s 21 career interceptions, five have come against Syracuse. If WVU has similar numeric on Saturday, it has little chance to win the Pinstripe Bowl.
“Out offense has been up and down,” Holgorsen said. “It’s been a combination of things. … Syracuse has a great defense, so picking a score in the neighborhood of 49 or 63 would be ridiculous.”
West Virginia will also face another familiar foe: The weather. The Bronx forecast calls for one to three inches of snow, with temperatures in the low-30s. The Mountaineers have missed some chances this year because of weather issues, most notably an inability to turn Texas Tech miscues, including a pair of turnovers, into points partially because of Smith’s struggles with the wind. WVU had edges in time of possession, turnovers and penalties, yet got blown out 49-14 because Texas Tech took advantage of nearly every opportunity it had.
“I’ve become the weatherman lately,” Holgorsen said. “Wind and wet are the two factors (that are difficult with which to deal). Snow doesn't bother as much. Ames, Iowa was about the most miserable situation I have been in, 30 degrees and the wind really blowing. But our guys are used to it. You have a game plan, you stick with it.
“We knew practice would be a challenge here,” Holgorsen added. “The preparation was really accomplished back in Morgantown. It's been a challenge to maintain a routine, which is difficult to do. We’ve had a great time and we’re anxious to play.”
Holgorsen said receiver Stedman Bailey was ill yesterday but will be “good to go.” Bailey missed the very early portions of practice because he was “on the toilet,” Holgorsen said. “He was there for about 30 minutes, took care of business and got back to work.” Holgorsen quipped that most of the players enjoyed New York, but Tavon Austin “walked three blocks, said ‘This is not for me,’ turned around and walked back to the hotel.”
Holgorsen also answered a query about Austin, Bailey and Smith by noting they “are great players. They will play for a long time. I don’t know if they bought in to what I was saying from the very beginning, but they kept pressing forward. That’s what true leaders and good players do. They and 21 other seniors, I’m proud of all of them but one (Joe Madsen, who was ruled academically ineligible for a bowl for the second time in his career). All went through a coaching change and kept trying and playing hard.”
Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone noted that he had discussed what the Orange could expect from SU’s conference realignment with Holgorsen. West Virginia became a member of the Big 12 after being playing football in the Big East since 1991. Marrone thanked Holgorsen for his thoughts and insights on what his team went through its first year in the conference and how best to handle new aspects like different road venues and foes in a week-in and -out basis.