When: 8pm, Friday October 21
Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse NY
What to Watch For When The ‘Eers Have the Ball: Continued offensive growth. As incredible as the statistics have been, and the statistics have been incredible, they may not even represent the zenith of what this offense is capable of. It's scary, to be the fourth-best passing team and the 13th-highest scoring team in the country and the Mountaineers have yet to put together a complete football game. WVU was bedeviled by Syracuse's blitz schemes last season, but this is a much more mature team who is playing with a sense of focus on offense that wasn't seen last season. Stopping this team at times has seemed impossible, but at other times it seems like the offense can't get in gear. If West Virginia can put together a full game, Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and company could pile up nearly a thousand yards.
What to Watch For When The Orange Have the Ball: Syracuse isn't loaded with offensive talent, but the cupboard isn't empty either. Ryan Nassib is solid quarterback and can exploit any mistakes the Mountaineers make in the secondary. Running back Antwon Bailey can hurt the Mountaineers between the tackles. But the Orange will need to score quickly to hang with the explosive WVU offense. Syracuse has broken the 30-point barrier in four of their six games, but it may take 40 to win this one.
The Mountaineers Will Roll If: Geno Smith plays like he has been playing. Smith's maturation from last season to this season has been impressive. Make no mistake, it's not simply a question of changing systems, but an example of a player growing into his skill set. If Geno can make the plays everyone in the arena (including Syracuse's defensive eleven) knows he can make, the ‘Eers should win going away
The Mountaineers Will Have Trouble If: They can't stop the run or handle the blitz. Ball control football is the bane of the Mountaineers, and this season, when teams have rushed effectively and controlled the clock, things got tense. If Syracuse's blitzing can shake Geno's confidence, this one could be closer than Mountaineer Nation would like.
Thing That Makes My Blood Boil: Last year's Syracuse game. Nobody thought that the Mountaineers would lose that one, just like no one thinks they'll lose the game Friday night. Last year's upset at homecoming is arguably one of the most important games of the last decade. It was Geno Smith's worst performance, tossing three picks and being completely flustered by the Orange's blitzing. If Geno doesn't throw just one of those picks, the Mountaineers probably win the game. If they win, they probably go to the BCS. If they go to the BCS, Bill Stewart is probably still the head coach and Dana Holgorsen is probably lighting up scoreboards somewhere else. It seems implausible, but one bad game against a bad team can have huge repercussions for a program.