West Virginia's Geno Smith is having a memorable year. His performance against Syracuse last season was memorable as well, but for all the wrong reasons.
The 11th-ranked Mountaineers look to avoid a second straight upset at the hands of the Orange on Friday night at the Carrier Dome.
West Virginia (5-1, 1-0 Big East) comes off its bye week looking for a measure of revenge against Syracuse, which defeated the then-No. 20 Mountaineers 19-14 in Morgantown on Oct. 23.
Smith had a brutal game, getting sacked five times while throwing three interceptions in the first half -- all of which led to points for the Orange.
That experience has coach Dana Holgorsen feeling assured that his team won't be overconfident Saturday, despite the fact that West Virginia went into the bye following back-to-back wins by a combined 98-26.
"I think our morale's real high," Holgorsen said. "Guys are having a good time playing ball. Then you thrown in the equation that Syracuse outplayed West Virginia last year and played with a little more energy and a little more excitement for four quarters, it should give our guys some motivation to play."
For their part, the Orange realize that duplicating last year's performance may be difficult.
"I think I'd be naive not to think we might have gone to Morgantown and caught them a little bit," coach Doug Marrone said. "But I don't think that's going to be the case this year."
Smith's outstanding play is a big reason why.
The Mountaineers defeated Connecticut 43-16 in their last game Oct. 8. Smith went 27 of 45 for 450 yards and four touchdowns -- his second four-TD game of the season.
The junior is fifth in the FBS with 359.8 passing yards per game and has thrown for at least 450 yards twice. He has seven touchdowns and no interceptions in the last two contests.
West Virginia ranks in the top 15 in the FBS with 503.5 yards and 40.8 points per game. Despite the gaudy numbers, Holgorsen would like more offensive balance, as the Mountaineers are averaging 123.0 yards rushing after averaging 159.7 last season.
"He doesn't need to take over the game," Holgorsen said of Smith. "He just needs to play within the system. He needs to play within himself and trust the coaches and trust guys around him."
Freshman Dustin Garrison could help lift the ground attack, as he ran for 291 yards in a win over Bowling Green on Oct. 1 and had 80 yards and one touchdown against the Huskies.
Syracuse (4-2, 0-1) also went into a bye week on a positive note, as it defeated Tulane 37-34 on Oct. 8 on Ross Krautman's 21-yard field goal as time expired.
After managing 295 yards of offense in a 19-16 loss to Rutgers on Oct. 1, Syracuse was more effective against the Green Wave. Ryan Nassib threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns while Antwon Bailey ran for 111 yards and one score.
Although the Orange were able to shut down Smith last season, Syracuse has struggled defensively this year -- particularly against the pass. It ranks 112th in the FBS in pass defense with 293.0 yards allowed per game.
Syracuse could get a boost from defensive end Chandler Jones and safety Olando Fisher, both of whom are expected to return after missing five games with lower-body injuries. Safety Shamarko Thomas returned for the last game after missing the previous two with a hamstring injury.
"Both Chandler and Orlando Fisher are good football players," Marrone said. "I think they bring a certain type of leadership on the field that will benefit our defense. Do I think that gives us a sudden edge? Absolutely not. But are we going to be better because of those two players being on the field? Absolutely."
Syracuse's win over West Virginia last season snapped an eight-game skid in the series. The Orange's last victory over the Mountaineers came by a 24-13 score at home in 2001.
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Both teams are coming off their bye week, and you can bet there will be extra motivation for the Mountaineers. Last season, Syracuse upset them at home, and quarterback Geno Smith had his worst game of the year, throwing three interceptions. Syracuse has given up more than 300 yards passing in four of six games this season.