The weather made passing at the Pinstripe Bowl perilous, so Syracuse sent Prince-Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith dashing through West Virginia and the snow.
Gulley ran for a career-best 208 yards and had three touchdowns, Smith added 157 yards, and the Orange bid a blustery farewell to the Big East with a 38-14 victory over West Virginia on Saturday.
Syracuse (8-5) will enter the Atlantic Coast Conference on a roll after finishing this season with six wins in its last seven games, capped by its second postseason victory at Yankee Stadium in the last three years.
In a bowl game played in a baseball stadium with weather better suited for a playoff game in Green Bay, the team that plays in a dome ended up being better equipped to handle the elements.
”The football Gods brought snow,” said Smith, who carried a season-high 30 times. ”The football Gods from Syracuse brought us some snow and it changed even West Virginia’s game. They had to run a little bit more than they were used to. We ran the ball a little bit more than we’re used to and did what we were supposed to do.”
Syracuse finished with a season-high 369 yards on the ground and beat its former Big East rival from West Virginia, now playing in the Big 12, for a third straight time.
”They just did a better job than us at the line of scrimmage,” Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said. ”To be in a game like this when you’ve got to rely on your run defense to help you win and you’re not able to do it, it’s frustrating.”
Geno Smith connected with Stedman Bailey for two touchdown passes for West Virginia (7-6), but the Mountaineers’ quarterback also was sacked in the end zone in the first half and called for intentional grounding in the end zone in the third quarter to give Syracuse a second safety.
Smith, who was an early Heisman Trophy front-runner as the Mountaineers got off to a 5-0 start this season, was 16 for 26 for 197 yards in the final game of his record-breaking career. The NFL awaits.
Same goes for Ryan Nassib, though Syracuse didn’t ask much of its talented senior quarterback. He threw two touchdown passes and an interception. His most impressive feat on this day was surviving being driven into the cold turf by Terence Garvin on a sack in the first half. Nassib missed only one play.
”It’s my last game, man, nothing’s going to take me out,” he said.
Snow fell just about all game, giving most of the field a white dusting. Fans were bundled and players not in the game tried to do the same. It took a while for those potent offenses – both ranked in the top 25 nationally in yards per game – to heat up, which seemed appropriate considering the conditions.
”Cold. Cold,” said Smith, a junior from Delaware. ”I never got a chance to play in the snow, but it was good.”
His running mate from Akron, Ohio, had just a bit more experience playing in wintry weather.
”In pee-wees I played in some (snow) like this but not in high school,” said Gulley, who carried 25 times. ”It was fun.”
A goal-line stand by West Virginia in the second quarter kept Syracuse out of the end zone, but set up the Orange for a scoring run.
Left at their own 1, the Mountaineers tried to pass out of their end zone, but Smith was smothered by blitzing linebackers Cameron Lynch and Siriki Diabate for a safety to make it 5-0 – a baseball score, of course.
The Orange followed that up with a 33-yard touchdown run by Gulley to make it 12-0 with 6:07 left in the second.
The Mountaineers responded with their first sustained drive and Bailey took a quick pass, darted and broke tackles, and scooted 32 yards to the end zone to make it 12-7.
The Orange extended the lead to 12 to start the second half when they caught a break – and a touchdown pass. Nassib’s throw was tipped around the goal line, but floated safely into the waiting arms of intended receiver Beckett Wales for a 10-yard score.
West Virginia appeared to answer with a touchdown of its own. Andrew Buie broke free for a 28-yard TD run on fourth-and-2. Not so fast. A holding call on the Mountaineers wiped out the play and sent Holgorsen on to the field screaming at the officials.
It didn’t help. Instead of a touchdown, a punt.
Holgorsen had nothing to say about the call and was more disappointed with how his team responded.
”We did a poor job of continuing to play. A poor job of overcoming some things,” he said.
Moments later another close call, this time on a fumble by Smith which was reviewed to determine if it was an incomplete pass, went Syracuse’s way, and again the Orange capitalized.
On the next play, Gulley broke through the line, bounced to the outside and went 67 yards for a touchdown to make it 26-7 with 6:52 left in the third.
West Virginia wouldn’t let Syracuse pull away. Smith found Bailey deep down the sideline, beating one-on-one coverage for a 29-yard score 1:11 later.
Right back came the Orange, nine plays, 70 yards, with Gulley taking a swing pass from Nassib 10 yards to make it 33-14.
The 60th meeting between these teams, but first in a bowl, ended up being a romp in the snow for Syracuse.