WVU’s offense sputtered in Camping World Bowl loss
It was the few occasions when the offense wasn’t clicking — that terrible night at Iowa State and the second half at Oklahoma State come to mind — that cost WVU dearly, however, and Friday’s 34-18 loss to Syracuse in the Camping World Bowl was no different.
The Mountaineers were notably missing quarterback Will Grier, offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste and receiver Gary Jennings. To make matters worse for WVU in the personnel department, receiver Marcus Simms also did not play and was on the sideline in street clothes Friday.
“We’re obviously a different club (without those players) and I could give you a bunch of different excuses, but I’m not interested in saying any of them,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said after Friday’s loss. “I think what happened throughout the course of this last month will help us become a better club.”
Simms left the Mountaineers’ final regular-season game against Oklahoma because of a concussion. Holgorsen said Simms had not done anything since that game last month in Morgantown.
“He’s dealing with some things and he’s got to get right,” Holgorsen said of Simms.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jack Allison took the bulk of the snaps and left a lot to be desired against Syracuse.
Allison, who sat out last season after transferring to WVU from the University of Miami, served as Grier’s backup this season and only threw 10 passes prior to Friday. He finished the game 17 of 35 for 277 yards with one interception, but often looked out of sync with the rest of the offense. Allison made many poor reads, often overthrew or badly missed receivers and seemed to miss several opportunities to get the ball to senior receiver David Sills in favorable matchups.
Freshman Trey Lowe, who Holgorsen said would get some snaps in the bowl, got in the game sparingly and was a non-factor against the Orange.
Coming into the game, Holgorsen said establishing the run would be a key for WVU. The Mountaineer running backs did have some bright spots Friday - Kennedy McKoy scored WVU’s only touchdown and Martell Pettaway hit for a 51-yard run - but the ground game struggled with consistency. As a team, WVU ran the ball 36 times for 146 yards if you factor in the yards Allison lost on the four sacks he took.
WVU’s defense took justifiable heat this season, but despite allowing 34 points to Syracuse on Friday the Mountaineer defenders, particularly the lineman and linebackers, weren’t all that bad.
Junior linebacker David Long finished the game with 11 total tackles. Fellow linebacker Shea Campbell chipped in with 8.5 tackles and a quarterback sack. As a team, WVU sacked Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey five times and registered 10 tackles for a loss.
Brothers Dante and Darius Stills played well on the line against Syracuse, with Darius going full-extension on a leap to grab and bring down Dungey for a sack.
In the secondary, WVU intercepted Dungey twice -- the first by safety Kenny Robinson and the second by former South Charleston High standout Derrek Pitts.
Robinson, however, was ejected from the game in the second quarter for an obvious targeting penalty. Pitts then took over for Robinson and played well, WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said.
“I thought Derrek went in and played OK,” Gibson said. “Anytime you lose a valuable guy like Kenny that has played so many snaps and makes big plays, that hurts. It’s unfortunate. He made a mistake and I wish we could take it back, but we can’t.”
Pitts, who spent time at both safety and cornerback this season, is penciled in as the new starter at bandit safety going forward, Gibson said.
“He can run and he’s a physical player,” Gibson said. “I really like Derrek and he’s going to have a heck of a career here. He’s going to be in the mix the next two years as a leader and a starter to be that kind of guy back there for us. I’m really looking forward to getting him and Kenny and move JoVanni (Stewart) back (to the secondary) and get linebackers and safeties back to where they belong.”
WVU sophomore kicker Evan Staley had perhaps the best game of his collegiate career Friday.
Staley, a West Virginia native who played prep football at Hampshire High, booted four field goals against Syracuse. One of those was a 49-yarder that banged in off the right upright to tie his career-long. The four made field goals tied the Camping World Bowl record and extended his streak to 12 consecutive made field goal attempts. The only blemish on Staley’s game Friday was a missed extra point that hit the left upright.
“I just had to do what I needed to do when I was called upon,” Staley said. “Unfortunately one extra point didn’t go where I wanted it to but with a little help I got that 49-yarder to go through.”
Staley finished the season with a 16-for-20 mark on field goal attempts. The missed extra point in the bowl game was his only miss in 60 attempts.
“I just trusted my form throughout the whole season,” Staley said. “I kept it consistent and hoped everything would work out.”
Friday’s loss extended a streak of futility in the Camping World Bowl for the Mountaineers. Going back to the bowl’s origins in the 1990s as the Blockbuster Bowl, West Virginia is now 0-5 in the game.
In the 1995 Carquest Bowl, South Carolina clipped the Mountaineers, 24-21. Georgia Tech got past WVU with a 35-30 win in the 1997 Carquest Bowl. N.C. State beat the Mountaineers, 23-7, in the 2010 Champs Sports Bowl and Miami won 31-14 in 2016, the final iteration of the Russell Athletic Bowl.