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West Virginia Hopes Defense Improves For Bowl Game
December 28, 2012
By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

Past, present and future will all be on display for West Virginia in Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl.

Just less than a year ago, the Mountaineers' offense announced its presence with authority in a record-setting 70-33 destruction of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. That was a suitable springboard to the inaugural season in the Big 12 Conference.

Ironically, the bowl opponent will be Syracuse, a team from the conference West Virginia departed. The Orange also are switching league addresses and will play in the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.

Before that, though, the Mountaineers' fans get one more chance to watch the prolific trio of quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Smith and Austin are seniors; Bailey, a fourth-year junior, as announced that he will skip his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft.

"He's been playing well. He's played well all year, he's a great quarterback, and I'm proud of his accomplishments," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said of Smith. "He's a great kid and he will be remembered around here for a long, long time."

The future? The Pinstripe Bowl could be a precursor for next season for the Mountaineers' defense. Holgorsen has dismissed cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts and promoted Keith Patterson to defensive coordinator. Patterson and Joe DeForrest were co-coordinators this season.

After a 5-0 start, the Mountaineers lost five consecutive games because their defense was exposed. West Virginia ranked No. 119 out of 120 FBS teams in both yards allowed and passing efficiency.

"There will be some changes." Holgorsen said about the defense for the Pinstripe Bowl. There will be some noticeable changes. ... We've had good talks and I like where it's at.''

West Virginia had won eight consecutive games against Syracuse before losing the last two meetings, including a 49-23 defeat in 2011. The Orange offense is potent with senior quarterback Ryan Nassib having a record-setting season.

"I think we're gonna be motivated to play based on what happened last year," Holgorsen said. "I think it's a fantastic matchup, I think the fans are gonna be excited about it. I think college football in general is gonna be excited about it."

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

West Virginia vs. Syracuse
Need to know: 2:15 p.m. Saturday, Yankee Stadium, ESPN.
Team records: West Virginia 7-5, Syracuse 7-5.

Scouting West Virginia
If this game turns into a shootout - and that's a real possibility - the Mountaineers should have a slight edge. Quarterback Geno Smith bounced back from a mid-season slump to finish strong. Tavon Austin, a former running back turned receiver last season, has been getting more carries out of the backfield in order to utilize his game-breaking speed. Receiver Stedman Bailey is one of the nation's top receivers. The issue all season for West Virginia has been a defense that has struggled to stop the opposition. The Mountaineers haven't created enough game-changing plays on defense - just 18 turnovers and 21 sacks.

Scouting Syracuse
Syracuse led the Big East in total offense and ranked No. 21 nationally with an attack that shows good balance - 302 yards per game passing and 172 yards per game on the ground. Senior quarterback Ryan Nassib ranks No. 13 in total offense. Nassib set a school single-season record with 3,619 yards passing. Jerome Smith is the team's top running back with 1,019 yards while wide receivers Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales have combined for 133 catches, 1,926 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Short yardage
West Virginia senior center Joey Madsen, who has started 50 of the last 51 games, is academically ineligible for the Pinstripe Bowl. ... Syracuse starting linebacker Marquis Spruill will not play "a significant portion" of this game because of his arrest following an altercation with police Dec. 2. ... West Virginia is playing a bowl for the 11th consecutive season, a school record. ... This will be the 60th meeting between the schools. ... Syracuse was co-champions of the Big East this season but next season will move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. ... The Orange defeated Kansas State, 36-34, the inaugural Pinstripe contest in 2010.

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