Date: December 28, 2018
Time: 5:15pm EST
Venue: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
How to Watch/Listen
Streaming: WatchESPN app
Radio: Click HERE for a complete list of radio affiliates in West Virginia. If you live outside of the state, or don’t live close enough to a radio affiliate, you can listen to the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG on TuneIn Radio.
Spread: WVU +2.5
Know Your Enemy
Series History: (27-33). Some say that Prince-Tyson Gulley is still running to this day (we'll pretend that I actually remembered his name and not just that he drank our milkshake on that fateful December day in 2012). Bringing the Schwartzwalder Trophy back to Morgantown, even in spirit, would be a nice way to end a fairly disappointing season.
Record: (9-3, 6-2). The losses against Clemson and Notre Dame are obviously forgivable, but losing at Pitt is a bit of a head scratcher.
Head Coach: Dino Babers. It's hard to argue with Syracuse's decision to extend Babers earlier this month. He had a somewhat rocky start to his tenure, but weathered the storm well and undoubtedly has the program trending in the right direction as he wraps up his third year at the helm.
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Lynch. Lynch has spent his last three years with Dino at Syracuse, but this is his first year running the show on offense.
Defensive Coordinator: Brian Ward. Ward has also been with Babers since he came to Syracuse.
By the Numbers
Welcome to “By the Numbers”!
First, the weekly caveat: Google Sheets mobile limits my radar chart options so all numbers are displayed in terms of percentiles. Obviously the higher the better.
Second, definitions for the uninitiated:
Big Play Differential (10+ yard runs, 20+ yard passes) = (Big Plays For - Big Plays Against)
Toxic Differential = Big Play Differential + Turnover Margin
NFP, Net Field Position = Average Starting Field Position - Opponent Average Starting Field Position
Havoc Rate = (Total TFL + Passes Defended + Forced Fumbles)/Total Plays
When we have the ball..
Players to watch: DE Kendall Coleman, LB Ryan Guthrie, LB Kielan Whitner, SS Evan Foster
Defining success: Protect Jack
Syracuse's defensive numbers aren't overly impressive. They're below average in both yards allowed per play and per game, and also give up more than their share of big plays. However, there's no doubt that they have an identity - they get after quarterbacks. The Orange rank 13th nationally with 38 sacks, with the majority of that production coming from their talented front 4.
That fact alone makes it pretty obvious that the key to our offensive success will be protecting the quarterback, but it's going to be even more important when you consider that ours will be making his first career start. We've seen that Jack can sling it a little, but it's crucial that we give him the time to do so. If we can, I'm confident that he'll put the ball where it needs to be the majority of the time, and at that point I feel good about our skill guys' ability to beat Syracuse in space.
When they have the ball...
Players to watch: QB Eric Dungey, RB Moe Neal, RB Dontae Strickland, WR Jamal Custis, WR Sean Riley
Defining success: Discipline, 007. Discipline.
Syracuse isn't necessarily explosive offensively, but you don't rank in the top 20 nationally in both yards and points if you aren't good at what you do. And what Syracuse does, is go fast.
Everything starts with quarterback Eric Dungey. Dungey probably doesn't receive the recognition that he deserves nationally, but his skill set is perfectly suited for Dino Babers' system. He's a big, strong kid who makes quick decisions both on the ground and through the air, and his combination of arm and athleticism allows Syracuse to function like some kind of hyper-tempo Iowa State offensively.
As for the skill positions around Dungey, Iowa State has better high-end talent, but Syracuse is arguably deeper. Neither Moe Neal or Dontae Strickland are as good as David Montgomery, but both average north of 4.5 yards per carry with a fairly even share of touches. The big play guy out wide is Jamal Custis, who's 6'5 frame will likely wake up echoes of Hakeem Butler and Lil’Jordan Humphrey for Mountaineer Nation, but Sean Riley, Nykeim Johnson, and Taj Smith all average more than three catches per game, as well, and are equally as capable of hurting us. All in all, it's very much the type of offense that we've had trouble with this year, so our #Dawgs will need to be on their best behavior if we want to avoid a repeat of the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl.
Against teams like Syracuse, the most important thing we can do is stay focused. It's imperative that everybody simply stays in their lanes and plays some fundamentally sound football. They're going to gain yards, but we won't have time to beat ourselves up between plays. Everybody just needs to line back up and get on with doing their jobs. If we can do that and force them to drive on us, I'll back us to stop them more times than not. If we can't, and Syracuse starts stringing big plays together, this game won't be one worth watching.
Based on your metric (ticket sales vs fan base reaction to certain members of the team choosing to skip the bowl to get a head start on their draft prep), this game is either the single least important thing we've ever had to waste our time with or it's literally the 1988 National Championship. Personally, I'm somewhere in the middle - I've been pretending that I don't care because I'm sad about the way our season played out and downplaying my emotional attachment to the program has made me feel better for the last month, but I'm low-key pretty interested in what this one has in store for us.
Can Jack get his career started on the right foot and kickstart the 2019 hype machine? Here's to giving our seniors the type of send-off they deserve.
West Virginia 31 Syracuse 27