Officials at the Camping World Bowl had to be thrilled as the last few weeks of the season unfolded. A former Big East matchup seemed increasingly likely. Those officials got their wish. The West Virginia Mountaineers and Syracuse Orange are set to renew their bitter rivalry in this year’s Camping World Bowl. Kickoff is set for 5:15 on Friday, December 28 in Orlando, Florida. Both teams enter the game ranked in the top 20.
Syracuse Looking to Punctuate Surprise Season
The Orange entered 2018 coming off of four straight losing campaigns. In Head Coach Dino Babers’ third season, however, the Orange finished 9-3 (6-2 in the ACC).
Led by dual-threat senior quarterback Eric Dungey, the Orange featured a potent and balanced offensive attack. Dungey completed just under 60% of his passes and combined for nearly 3,300 total yards. He threw for 17 touchdowns and added 15 on the ground while throwing only seven interceptions. Dungey shared rushing duties with junior Moe Neal and senior Dontae Strickland. Dungey’s main receiving targets are Sean Riley and Jamal Custis.
The Orange offense scored nearly 41 points per game, good for 12th in the country. Over the season, they averaged 206 yards on the ground and 262 through the air. The Orange defense, on the other hand, finished 72nd nationally surrendering nearly 28 points per game.
The Orange defense is effective creating turnovers off of pressure. Syracuse racked up 38 sacks and created 30 turnovers on the season. Ryan Guthrie, Alton Robinson, and Kendall Coleman were mainstays in opposing backfields. Meanwhile, freshman Andre Cisco led the Orange secondary with seven interceptions over the course of the season.
Mountaineers Breaking in Future Starting Quarterback
Quarterback Will Grier , wideout Gary Jennings, and left tackle Yodny Cajuste will sit out the bowl game. As a result, the Mountaineers will audition Jack Allison as their starting quarterback. In the pre-season, we predicted that Allison would be one of the Mountaineers’ offensive surprises this season. He will have the opportunity to prove us right later this month.
Allison will have plenty of help, too, as the Mountaineers featured three separate running backs over the year. Kennedy McKoy led the team with seven touchdowns. Martell Pettaway led the trio in yards per carry and added six scores. Meanwhile, true freshman Leddie Brown gives the backfield a true north-south runner.
The Mountaineers also feature a deep rotation of experienced wideouts led by David Sills who has had 15 or more touchdown in each of the last two seasons. Speedy deep threat Marcus Simms and former Alabama wideout T.J. Simmons complement the two. West Virginia also boasts senior tight end Trevon Wesco. And Allison’s former Miami teammate Jovani Haskins has also played well.
Offensively, the Mountaineers finished ninth in the nation in points per game. The defense played well through the first three quarters of the season boasting a top 25 defense during that span. After a couple of shootouts to end the year, the Mountaineers finished as the 58th scoring defense in the country.
Junior linebacker David Long, who racked up 19 tackles for loss and seven sacks, leads the unit. USC transfer Kenny Bigelow also contributed huge snaps at the tackle position. And West Virginia’s secondary is led by senior safety Dravon Askew-Henry, sophomore safety Kenny Robinson, and junior cornerback Joshua Norwood. The group is opportunistic. They can create pressure and force mistakes when Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson dials it up.
A Rivalry Renewed
Since the Mountaineers left the former Big East, the Orange and Mountaineers have met only once. That was in the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl in Dana Holgorsen‘s second season for West Virginia. Syracuse won that game 38-14. The Orange are on a three-game winning streak. But the Mountaineers have won seven of the teams’ last ten meetings.
The game should be a high-scoring affair. But do not count out this Mountaineers’ defense, especially early. Even though they have struggled with dual threat quarterbacks this season, Dungey has struggled more with pressure. And Tony Gibson will indeed ratchet it up early and often.
As a result, the Mountaineers will ring up an early lead. Syracuse will get comfortable with the defense and threaten that lead through the end. But the Mountaineers will ultimately prevail 38-34.