Piscataway, NJ – A couple of teams trying to work their way ranked West Virginia Mountaineers in Big East Conference play at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.
Rutgers, which had won four straight outings to match the team's longest win streak since 2009, scored a season-low 14 points in a two-point loss at Louisville last Friday night. The defeat, which drops the team to 2-1 in conference play, means the Knights have lost two games this season by a total of just four points. The team is still second in the league standings though, trailing only Cincinnati which is 2-0 entering play this week.
As for the Mountaineers, at this time last week they were ranked 11th in the AP poll, but the defense failed to show up at the Carrier Dome in New York as the Syracuse Orange ripped the squad in a 49-23 final also on Friday night. The loss, just the second on the season overall after a 47-21 setback versus LSU, snapped a two-game win streak by WVU and sent the team to the bottom of the most recent rankings.
"Syracuse beat us physically and they beat us on all three sides of the ball, they out-played us and they out-coached us, it's as simple as that," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
In terms of the all-time series between these two programs, a relationship that dates all the way back to a 0-0 tie in 1916, the Mountaineers maintain a huge 32-4-2 advantage over Rutgers. Last season, WVU put up a 35-14 win at home to extend its win streak to 16 in a row over the Scarlet Knights. The last win for Rutgers over the Mountaineers was a 17-12 triumph in New Jersey back in 1994. The four Rutgers victories have come by a combined 23 points.
Rutgers has never really had much luck clashing with nationally-ranked programs, sporting a record of just 8-62-1 in such matchups. Under the direction of current head coach Greg Schiano, the Knights are 4-17 in such battles, but 4-6 in games that have taken place since the start of the 2006 campaign.
Last week, WVU quarterback Geno Smith managed to convert 24-of-41 passes for 338 yards and two touchdowns, but in addition to all of that he was also picked off twice and was sacked four times, leaving him with minus-34 yards on the ground and the team a mere 70 net yards rushing against the Orange. Stedman Bailey accounted for seven catches for a game-high 130 yards and a TD, but the scores that the Mountaineers did manage to post were few and far between compared to Syracuse.
In fact, the West Virginia defense make Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib look like and all-conference standout as the signal-caller connected on 24-of-32 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns, three of those to tight end Nick Provo who always seemed to be in the clear when hitting the end zone.
"They completely dominated us and it was on all three sides", said a visibly frustrated Holgorsen. "This was a team loss and I give Syracuse credit for having their team more excited to play and being more physical and whipping us in all three phases of the game."
Nassib got away without being sacked even once in the meeting with the Mountaineers, something that has become a regular occurrence for WVU foes in 2011 because there have been a total of four opponents that have escaped without being sacked this year and that's why West Virginia is ranked last in the conference and 105th in the nation with a mere 1.14 sacks per outing. Take away the five sacks the Mountaineers tallied again UConn a few weeks back and the efforts by the defense to break into opponent's backfields is even more disappointing.
With Smith at the helm of the offense WVU always has a chance, seeing as how he's first in the league and sixth in the country with 350.0 ypg of total offense, but under Holgorsen the Mountaineers have almost completely abandoned trying to run the ball, something the program excelled at in recent years. Through seven games West Virginia, which as recently as 2008 ranked 15th in the nation in rushing, is producing just 115.4 ypg on the ground which is 100th in the country at the moment.
Mohamed Sanu became the first player in Rutgers history to post a 100-yard receiving game and a 100-yard rushing game in his career versus the same opponent last week for the Scarlet Knights, but still the team took the loss at Louisville. Sanu, who ran for 148 yards against the Cardinals two seasons ago, reeled in 10 passes for 128 yards and a score last week as well. Quarterback Gary Nova had several issues in the pocket for the visitors as he converted 18-of-33 passes for 207 yards and a TD, getting sacked once and tossing three costly interceptions.
A lackluster rushing attack by the Knights, one that produced a mere 91 yards and one TD on 30 attempts, certainly didn't help matters either.
Defensively, Rutgers did manage to block a PAT by Chris Philpott in the third quarter, but that was only after the Louisville kicker booted a 52-yard field goal which, in the end, proved to be huge in the two-point decision.
The defense has come on strong for the Scarlet Knights at the ends of games this year, allowing just a combined 16 points in the fourth quarter, but with the Rutgers offense providing a mere 17 points in the first quarter thus far it tends to balance things out.
Quarterbacks Nova and Chas Dodd have put up decent numbers this year, the team throwing for 236.1 ypg, with Sanu being the focal point down the field for the group with his incredible 65 receptions for 683 yards and six touchdowns. With about 9.3 catches per game Sanu, who is producing just 100 ypg, is ranked first in the conference and fourth nationally in that department which goes a long way in taking the focus off the rushing attack for the Knights which is managing only 91.7 ypg to place last in the Big East and 112th in the country right now.
"I don't know if it matters, it's a big football game again in the Big East Conference, every game's a championship game," coach Schiano responded when asked if it mattered that both teams were coming off a loss. "I don't know if it really matters whether their coming off wins or losses, it's a big game for us I know that."