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Syracuse and West Virginia to Clash in the Camping World Bowl Today

Posted on December 28, 2018 by Chris Kent

For the first time in five years, Syracuse University is in a college football bowl game. The No. 17 ranked Orange will face No. 15 West Virginia on Friday Dec. 28 in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Fl. Kickoff is set for 5:15 pm and the game will be televised on ESPN.

It is the second time Syracuse has played in this bowl game as the Orange also appeared in it when it was called the Champs Sports Bowl in 2004. Georgia Tech beat Syracuse 51-14 in what was the final game for Orange head coach Paul Pasqualoni. This year’s bowl appearance is the first bowl game for Syracuse since it beat Minnesota 21-17 in the Texas Bowl following the 2013 season.

Head coach Dino Babers is restoring prominence to Syracuse football.

Behind a breakthrough 2018 season in which the Orange went 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, head coach Dino Babers has restored Syracuse to national prominence on the gridiron. The Orange finished second behind No. 2 Clemson in the ACC Atlantic Division. The Orange, who handed Clemson its’ only loss in 2017, gave the Tigers all they could handle this season before Clemson handed Syracuse its’ first loss of the season 27-23 on Sept. 29.

In his third year as Orange head coach, Babers lead Syracuse to a five-win improvement from 2017 that was sparked by a pair of four game win-streaks. Along the way, Syracuse defeated perennial national power Florida State 30-7 on Sept. 15 for the first time since 1966 which ended a 10-game losing streak to the Seminoles. Syracuse finished undefeated (6-0) at home in the Carrier Dome this season, its’ first undefeated home season since 2001 and only its’ fourth all time since the dome opened in 1980.

West Virginia is the fourth-most common opponent for Syracuse as the two have met 60 times on the gridiron with the Orange holding a 33-27 edge. Only Pittsburgh (74), Penn State (71), and Colgate (67) have played Syracuse more often than the Mountaineers. The Orange and Mountaineers formerly met yearly as members of The Big East Conference. The last time the two met was in 2012 when the Orange won 38-14 in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY to cap an 8-5 season.

Syracuse emerged this season behind the play of senior quarterback Eric Dungey. Aside from various injuries causing him to miss 10 games over his first three years, Dungey started all 12 games this season for the first time in his college career. Dungey will leave Syracuse as one of the top quarterbacks in Orange history. Dungey and Syracuse legend Donovan McNabb are the only two quarterbacks in school history with 6,000+ passing yards and 1,000+ rushing yards. Entering the 2018 season, Dungey, who is Syracuse’s career leader in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, stands among the top 10 in school history in 10 other categories including completion percentage (2nd, 61.7 %), passing touchdowns (5th, 40), and passing yards (4th, 6,472). Dungey threw for a season-high 411 yards in a 51-41 win over North Carolina State on Oct. 27 to extend his school career records to 10 300-yard passing games and three 400-yard passing games.

Dungey was healthy nearly the entire season in 2018 and was named the ACC Quarterback of the Week four times. The 6-4 226-pound signal caller was named to the All-ACC Third Team and was the recipient of Syracuse’s Bill Horr award as team MVP. Dungey pressures the defense with his dual threat capability in passing and running where he exudes toughness. In completing 60.1 percent of his passes (205-for-341) this season, Dungey has thrown for 2,565 with 17 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. On the ground, Dungey is second on the team with 732 yards and a team-high 15 touchdowns.

Aside from Dungey, the Orange ground game is in the capable hands of the two-pronged attack of junior Moe Neal and senior

Senior quarterback Eric Dungey is a capable passer and runner for Syracuse.

Senior quarterback Eric Dungey is a capable passer and runner for Syracuse.

Dontae Strickland. Neal has run for a team-leading 827 yards on 147 carries (5.6 avg.) with 5 touchdowns while Strickland has totaled 560 yards on 112 carries (5.0 avg.) with 6 touchdowns. Freshman Jarveon Howard is also in the mix with 311 yards on 67 carries (4.6 avg.) with 6 touchdowns.

Dungey has spread the ball around to a solid group of receivers lead by junior Sean Riley who leads the team with 63 receptions on the season. Riley has totaled 733 yards and has caught three touchdowns. Senior Jamal Custis is a big receiver at 6-5 213 pounds and leads the team with 826 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Sophomore Nykeim Johnson and freshman Taj Harris each have over 500 yards receiving on the season and have combined for seven touchdown catches. Senior tight end Ravian Pierce contributed three touchdown catches on the season.

Up front, Dungey and the offense was able to operate behind the likes of senior offensive tackles Koda Martin and Cody Conway along with Airon Servais, Aaron Roberts, and Evan Adams. That offensive line unit helped Syracuse sustain drives with a 40 percent success rate on third downs (80-for-198) this season. It also impacted the production of the Orange offense in the red zone where Syracuse made a marked improvement in 2018. In 69 red zone trips this season, the Orange scored 61 times for a success rate of 88.4 percent which was an improvement from 2017 when they were 39-for-47 for 83 percent. More importantly, they also wound up reaching the end zone more often in 2018 than in 2017. Syracuse was 41-for-69 for a 59 percent success rate in scoring touchdowns in the red zone in 2018, an improvement of 10 percentage points from 2017 when they were 23-for-47 for 49 percent.

This same efficiency was seen on defense where the Orange became more stingy in the red zone in 2018. Syracuse opponents scored 76 percent (36-for-47) of the time in the red zone this season, an improvement of 5 percentage points from 2017, when opponents converted at a clip of 81 percent (26-for-32). Furthermore, Syracuse opponents scored a touchdown in the red zone 53 percent (25-for-47) of the time in 2018, an improvement of 10 percentage points from 2017 when they reached the end zone 63 percent (20-for-32) of the time.

Alton Robinson has been a consistent force on defense for the Orange and leads the team with 10 sacks.

Babers, his coaching staff, and players deserve much credit for this statistical improvement. Players like junior defensive ends Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson along with redshirt senior defensive tackle Chris Slayton have made this possible with their production. The trio combined for 20.5 sacks on the season with Robinson leading the way with 10. Coleman has seven sacks and Slayton has 3.5 for an Orange team that has recorded 38 sacks this season for a loss of 240 yards while allowing 32 for a loss of 213 yards. That is a significant improvement from 2017 when Syracuse had only 16 sacks. Robinson is effective penetrating the line of scrimmage and has 17 tackles for a loss and 3 forced fumbles – both team highs – to go along with 2 fumble recoveries.  Senior linebackers Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner are the team’s top two tacklers at 101 and 96 respectively with Guthrie adding a pair of sacks. Adding impact on defense is freshman defensive back Andre Cisco who’s seven interceptions and 11 pass breakups both lead the team. Cisco’s seven picks are tied for the mostly nationally and are the most by any FBS freshman. This group has been the core of the defense whose aggressive style of play has been reflected in the turnover game. The Orange went from -12 in turnover margin in 2017 to +14 this season with 16 turnovers committed compared to 30 takeaways.  As the saying goes, defense wins things and offense sells tickets. Syracuse benefitted from this concept this season.

On special teams, the Orange got an outstanding performance from their kicking game in 2018. Redshirt freshman kicker Andre Szmyt and redshirt junior punter Sterling Hofrichter were both named to the All-ACC First Team while Szmyt won the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker. Szmyt received this award at the Home Depot College Football Awards show aired by ESPN from Atlanta, GA following the end of the regular season in early December. Szmyt  was also named a unanimous All-American, the ninth player in Syracuse history to earn the distinction and the first freshman to be so honored.

Szmyt converted an ACC record 28-of-32 field goals (.875) and was a perfect 57-of-57 on PATs this year. Szmyt ranks second in the

Syracuse freshman kicker Andre Szmyt was an All-ACC First-Team Selection in 2018.

nation with 141 points which is a Syracuse record that also places him third on the ACC single season scoring list. Hofrichter’s punting average of 43.3 yards placed him second in the ACC and his 25 punts downed inside the 20-yard line are good for first in the conference.

With accolades like these in their kicking game, Syracuse is a well-rounded team in all three phases of the game, offense, defense, and special teams. They will be a tough out and the Mountaineers will have their hands full in trying to derail the Orange who went 5-1 in the second half of the season including a 42-21 win at Boston College in their regular season finale on Nov. 24.

West Virginia (8-3, 6-3) ended the regular season with two straight losses, falling to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma by a total of seven points. The Mountaineers have been ranked in the top 20 of the AP poll all season and have the ninth ranked scoring offense in the country at 42.3 points per game along with a scoring defense of 26.5 ppg. Those statistical numbers are comparable to Syracuse which boasts the nation’s 12 ranked scoring offense (40.8 ppg) and a scoring defense of 27.8. So something has to give in this one.

The Mountaineers are lead by senior quarterback Will Grier who has passed for 3,864 yards and 37 touchdowns on the season. However Grier has announced that he will not be playing in this game so West Virginia will be counting on Grier’s backup, Jack Allison who is 6-fot-6, 203 pounds. Allison has not seen much action this season as he has thrown only 10 passes.

Facing this adjustment at quarterback, the Mountaineers will look to their ground game behind the one-two punch of junior running backs Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway. The duo is productive with both averaging better than five yards per carry on the season. McKoy has run for 729 yards on 128 carries (5.7 avg.) with 7 touchdowns while Pettaway has run for 562 yards on 94 carries (6.0 avg.) with 6 touchdowns.

DSills V

Senior wide receiver David Sills V will look to get open in the passing game for the Mountaineers.

If West Virginia is to make some plays in the passing game, look for senior wide receivers David Sills V and Gary Jennings Jr. to make some plays. Sills V has 61 catches for 896 yards (14.7 avg.) and 15 touchdowns while Jennings Jr. has 54 catches for 917 yards (17.0 avg.) and 13 touchdowns.

Redshirt junior linebacker David Long Jr. sparks the Mountaineer’s defense. He is fourth in the Big 12 Conference with 97 total tackles and third with eight sacks, both of which lead the team. Long Jr., also leads the team with 18.5 tackles for a loss.

This game will likely come down to mistakes and whether or not the other team capitalizes on them. These two schools know much about each other having regularly met for so many years as Big East rivals. Syracuse has won the last three meetings between the two schools and you have to go back to 2009 for the last time West Virginia beat Syracuse. One thing is for certain. Both of these teams got off to 4-0 starts and were in the early season conversation for the college football playoffs. They both played elite competition as they faced three of the four teams that made the College Football Playoffs. Syracuse lost to both Clemson and Notre Dame while West Virginia lost to Oklahoma. Had any of those games gone differently, it could of shaken up the college football playoff committee and landed either of these teams on a bigger stage. Nonetheless, a close and competitive game is likely on the horizon as these teams set to renew their rivalry.

 


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