SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Doug Marrone brushes away kudos - even when his Syracuse Orange do the unthinkable.
High-powered West Virginia came to the Carrier Dome on Friday night with visions of avenging an upset loss to Syracuse in Morgantown last fall. The 11th-ranked Mountaineers departed a crestfallen group after a humbling 49-23 loss.
Marrone, who emphasizes the history of the Syracuse program every chance he gets as he rebuilds the team he once played for, was emotional afterward because Syracuse kept possession of the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy. Schwartzwalder was born in West Virginia, played center for the Mountaineers, and remains the winningest coach in Syracuse history.
"We had a very good victory tonight. It really means a lot," Marrone said after the most significant triumph in his three seasons at the helm. "Even with me, I don't know how many answers I can give you. We're just fighting and I'm trying to do my best."
Syracuse (5-2, 1-1 Big East) hadn't scored that many points in the series since a 45-0 win in 1960, and a crowd of 45,265, the largest in three years, roared its approval with thunderous cheers. It also is the highest-ranked opponent Syracuse has beaten since a 50-42 triple-overtime win over No. 8 Virginia Tech in 2002.
"It's quite simple," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We knew what we were getting ourselves into. Syracuse beat us physically on all three sides of the ball. They outplayed us and outcoached us. It's as simple as that."
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith came in with all the gaudy numbers, ranked fifth nationally in passing yardage at 359.3 yards per game, nearly 26 yards more than the Orange as a team. He was 24 of 41 for 338 yards and two touchdowns with two critical interceptions.
"They played a great game," Smith said. "We didn't respond and play well. It's tough. It hurts. I'm bleeding right now. I just gotta move on, and I've just got to be a leader for this team."
The Mountaineers also were averaging 40.8 points and 503.5 yards offensively, but on this night a team that was averaging just 333.5 yards per game reeled off 443 against a highly touted defense.
Ryan Nassib threw four touchdown passes - three to tight end Nick Provo - and had zero turnovers, and Dorian Graham returned a kickoff 98 yards for a critical score to key the victory.
The Orange also finished with 194 yards rushing - 125 by Antwon Bailey - and had zero lost yards on 41 carries, a sign of dominance up front.
"We did a good job of mixing up the pass and run," Nassib said. "Our running game was doing well and usually when that happens in this system is when we are at our best. That is really how we were able to keep up under the pressure."
Smith's interceptions came at critical junctures - the first at the Orange goal line and the second on the final play of the third quarter when the game was still within reach.
Both teams, off last week, had plenty of time to game plan and Syracuse devised a winning formula.
"He (defensive coordinator Scott Shafer) took this bye week off to give us a good game plan, and it worked," said Orange defensive end Chandler Jones, who had two of the Orange's four sacks and six solo tackles in his first start after missing five games with an injury. "We just did a good job of getting in that quarterback's head."
Syracuse built a 12-point halftime lead and when West Virginia tried to rally in the second half, Syracuse had an answer and then some.
When Smith guided the Mountaineers 57 yards in 14 plays and Shawne Alston scored on a 1-yard run on the first possession of the third quarter, the Orange struck back in just six plays.
Nassib thwarted a blitz by hitting Van Chew for 6 yards on a third-and-5 play and then hit a wide-open David Stevens along the left side inside the Mountaineers 10 for a 29-yard score.
Provo caught a 10-yard scoring pass with 18 seconds left in the third and a 5-yarder early in the fourth after free safety Phillip Thomas intercepted Smith.
Syracuse entered the game with an important goal - keep the ball as long as possible - and the strategy worked as the Orange held possession for nearly 36 minutes, converting an impressive 12 of 17 third downs.
The Mountaineers never found any kind of rhythm, and it showed on the scoreboard. Smith left the field at halftime with 215 yards passing and his team trailing 21-9, a 64-yard touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey one of the few bright spots. Bailey made a brilliant juggling catch, beating double coverage along the left side at the Syracuse 30 and scampering into the end zone.
It moved the Mountaineers within 14-9 and they seemed poised to take control. Then, just like that Syracuse dashed that hope when Graham returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown.
"I just saw a hole you could drive a truck through," Graham said. "My coach just told me to take it straight up. It was a great momentum booster."
The Syracuse defense confounded Smith with an assortment of blitzes, batted down two of his passes, sacked him two straight times, and picked off one of his passes in the first half. And when Syracuse needed a break on offense deep in West Virginia territory, the Mountaineers obliged.
After a wide-open Provo dropped a pass in the end zone, putting Syracuse in a third-and-7 hole from the 13, defensive end Bruce Irvin was called for a personal foul when he got tangled with Syracuse offensive tackle Michael Hay and threw him to the ground. That gave the Orange a first down at the 6 and two plays later Nassib scored on a 1-yard keeper for a 14-3 lead with 10:13 left in the half.
Smith hit Willie Milhouse for 43 yards to move the Mountaineers deep into Syracuse territory with time winding down in the opening half, but Jeremi Wilkes intercepted Smith's third-down pass at the goal line.