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Tomorrow and Sunday are shaping to be a lost cause for any meaningful Syracuse-related blogging. There's simply too much college pigskin to take in over the next 24+ hours.

So, it looks like today is shaping up to be the last reasonable opportunity to drop some commentary on the Syracuse/West Virginia game.

Instead of creating an overly broad preview as you would find in any traditional print source (which you can handily find by clicking on the various links to the right), I've decided to go in a different direction.

Since the purpose of this blog isn't to write in absolutes but rather to stimulate discourse or personal rumination, the following, for the most part, provides a framework for formulating a necessary body of knowledge. It's built on a premise of "Keys to Victory" with fundamental points of emphasis illustrated.

[Keys To Victory]
West Virginia Running Game
Last season, the Mountaineer rushing attack ranked first in the Big East and seventh nationally in rushing yards per game (252.83). While that attack may have lost two major cogs in Rasheed Marshall and Kay-Jay Harris, the rushing cupboard isn't bare. Jason Colson and Justin Gwaltney are prepared to become the workhorses in Coach Rich Rodriguez's spread attack.

Speaking of the spread, Syracuse has done a terrible job at stopping the WVU rushing attack the last few years. Last season, WVU rushed for 279 yards (5.58 yards/carry). 2003 saw Syracuse "tighten up" their defense by allowing WVU to muster "only" 196 yards on the ground (4 yards/carry). In 2002, Syracuse once again yielded 279 yards to the Mountaineers at 4.89 yards/carry.

Why is this important? Well, Syracuse has been outscored by WVU 95- 36 in those highlighted years. And 23 of those Syracuse points came in one game - the 2003 meeting.

If Syracuse wants any chance to start the season off right with a victory in the Dome, it is absolutely necessary to stop the Mountaineer ground game and put the onus on WVU's young quarterbacks to generate offense.

Things to Watch For:

  • Yards per carry;
  • Points per carry;
  • Fumbles;
  • Rushes per drive;
  • Percentage total offense attributable to the rushing game; and
  • Rushing attempts and conversions in short yardage and red zone situations.

Quarterback Pressure
With Rasheed Marshall gone, the WVU offense isn't quite a rudderless ship, but it's close.

Coach Rich Rodriguez has yet to name a "starter" and has already indicated that both Adam Bednarik and Pat White will take snaps for the Mountaineers on Sunday. To quote the old adage, "If you've got two quarterbacks, you've got no quarterbacks."

Bednarik and White are vastly different signal callers; the former a pocket passer with a big arm and the latter a versatile runner in the general mold of former Mountaineer Rasheed Marshall. The two, however, have one thing in common - youth and inexperience.

Syracuse just may have the best front seven in the Big East this season and, arguably, may be considered among the best 25 units in the country. With all this talent concentrated at or near the line of scrimmage, James Wyche and Ryan LaCasse must make their presence felt and force these young passers into uncomfortable situations.

Coach Greg Robinson appears to be dedicated to implementing an aggresive, pressure-oriented defense. This mentality, theoretically, should play into Syracuse's favor on Sunday. It's just a matter of whether the Orange defense can effectively execute such a plan.

Things to Watch For:

  • Passer rating;
  • Drive efficency;
  • Fumbles, interceptions, and sacks;
  • Incompletions per drive;
  • Yards per pass;
  • Points per attempts; and
  • Pass attempts per drive.

Syracuse Passing Efficiency
In case you've been under a rock for the last six months, Coach Greg Robinson is implementing the west coast offense this season. Brian Pariani, the first year offensive coordinator, will tend to the system.

Since McNabb left the hill in 1998, Syracuse has had nothing resembling a passing game. It's not even worth going over the numbers. It's all just bad. It was so bad, many in Orange Nation are pining for the "unique" playmaking ability of Troy Nunes (my sworn enemy).

And now the passing attack will become the feature element of Syracuse's offense?

Whether or not Perry Patterson will be successful in this system will depend almost exclusively on how well Syracuse's receiving corps can grab the pigskin. With a staring duo of an unproven, yet physically imposing junior and a 5'8" non-descript Floridian, there is very little to lead one to believe that things will be much different for the 2005 edition of the football Orange.

Yet, the fate of the offense turns on whether this unit can catch the ball because, unfortunately, Doak Walker candidate Damien Rhodes can't rush the ball 40 times a game. Syracuse has already tried that, and the end result is almost always something near or at a .500 record.

With Syracuse's immature receivers standing in a position so important for the fate of the Orange's future, they could not have drawn a worst opening game opponent. WVU's defensive backfield, while mildly depleted through 2005 defections, is one of the better units in the Big East. Mike Lorello is a legitimate All-Big East performer and Anthony Mims may just end up being a better cover corner than Adam "Pac-Man" Jones was one year ago. Throw in an experienced free safety in Jahmile Addae and WVU is poised to lay the wood to a spooty SU receving corps.

Things to Watch For:

  • Sacks, interceptions, and fumbles;
  • Passer rating;
  • Incompletions per drive;
  • Yards per pass attempt; and
  • Points per pass attempt.

Drive Efficiency
With WVU sporting a lot of new faces on offense and Syracuse sporting an entirely new offensive philosophy, the team that wins on Sunday will ultimately have the stronger drive efficiency.

When considering games between opponents that are so evenly matched, the team that scores most effectively, will generally have a significant advantage in spearheading victory. While the attacks may differ, the goal is the same - score more than the opponent - and the team that is able to do that in the most efficient fashion will win Sunday afternoon.

What to Watch For:

  • Drive efficiency;
  • Red zone scoring;
  • 3rd/4th down coversions;
  • Field goal percentage and length;
  • Yards per play; and
  • Points per play.

[Final Thoughts]
These points of emphasis are broad in character, but they were intended to be. Painting a picture consisting of notations like "Coach Robinson will need to find a way to stop the spread" or "Anthony Smith needs an interception" doesn't adequately illustrate the significant themes that will impact Syracuse's chances for victory. Granted, these kinds of things are latent in the themes illustrated above, but they're put into a wider context of aspects of the game a critical viewer should watch for on Sunday.

With that said, Damien Rhodes needs 150+ yards on the ground and two touches if Syracuse wants to win on Sunday.

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