It's gameday in Morgantown for the third time in 15 days. The Mountaineers will take the field at noon to face the Syracuse Orange at Mountaineer Field: a place they've been pretty good, winning their last 12 in a streak that dates back to the '08 season. Because of a home-heavy October, three out of the next four (aka, the bulk of the Big East season) will be played on the road. This is an important game for the Mountaineers because in conference, they all are. This team is clearly the best team in the Big East right now but Pitt's 45-14 pasting of the Orange last week means the Panthers could be bouncing back to contend for the conference title. If the ‘Eers can stay perfect, the Big East title could be decided on the Friday after Thanksgiving at Heinz Field. Looking forward to today's match-up, here are some things I'll be looking at:
- How good are the Orange? After last week's blowout to the Panthers, the sheen has come off of the team that has easily been the biggest surprise in the Big East so far. While quarterback Ryan Nassib has been solid so far, this afternoon's game will be dictated by the Mountaineer secondary and what they can force the young quarterback into doing. If Keith Tandy, Robert Sands and company can be as opportunistic as they have been so far this season, it could be a long day for Nassib.
- What's up with Noel Devine? The Mountaineers haven't been able to run the ball the way they have over the past decade. This team is seventh out of eight in conference rushing the ball. Seventh! Some folks would point to play-calling, but the real answer may be that Noel hasn't been the same since being injured on a late hit at LSU almost a month ago. I'm looking to see if No. 7 can get back into the groove, not necessarily getting huge gains, but more precisely making quick cuts.
- Can the defense keep rolling? Right now, the Mountaineer defense is what we thought it might be before the season. They're quick, they hit hard, and they create opportunities getting in passing lanes and gobbling up tipped balls like Pac-Man (the video game, not the infamous former Mountaineer). Since victory is expected by all of Mountaineer Nation, the game within the game is how many points the ‘Eer D can hold the Orange to. If things go as they have, I don't expect a whole lot - six, nine max... and that's only if the game's not close. If the game's close, the Mountaineer D won't give up any. Which brings us to....
- Is the offense by design? I've gone back and forth with others who think the low point totals are indicative of failure. Failure to execute. Failure to call good plays. Failure to win the way they think we should win. I tend to think it's by design, scoring early and then taking the air out of the ball in the second half by running the ball and playing defense. Still, it's a great debate and one that hasn't been decided yet. I wouldn't oppose a 60-point Mountaineer victory, but wouldn't be upset if it stays in the teens as long as WVU controls the game. Right now, there's less faith in the offense than the defense but that could change as Geno Smith develops into the franchise quarterback he's expected to be.
I'm off to the stadium and will try to post in the comments. I'll be back after the game, hopefully with a stunning description of how Orange juice is made.