Gulley, Syracuse defeats WVU 38-14 in Pinstripe Bowl

By Cody Schuler

By way of two safeties, perfect third-down defense and a pulverizing rushing attack, Syracuse earned its third consecutive victory against West Virginia, thrashing the Mountaineers 38-14 in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

A wintry mix of snow and sleet blanketed Yankee Stadium, and the storybook ending West Virginia fans had hoped would meet 21 departing seniors was erased as Syracuse achieved victory in convincing fashion.

The Mountaineers converted on none of their 11 third-down tries and were outscored 23-7 in the third quarter – a stretch that sucked the life from West Virginia and all but sealed a Syracuse victory.

Syracuse junior running back Prince-Tyson Gulley was named the Pinstripe Bowl MVP after gaining 208 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries – the first player in 11 years to rush for more than 200 yards against West Virginia.

Gulley also added 50 yards receiving and a touchdown on five receptions.

Fellow junior running back Jerome Smith carried 29 times for 158 yards, and senior quarterback Ryan Nassib completed 12-of-24 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said his team’s inability to counter the Syracuse rushing attack ultimately led to the Mountaineers’ demise.

“Any time you get out-rushed by 300 yards, you’re going to have some problems,” he said.

“The team with the best run game was going to win and they clearly have a better running game.”

It took until the 2:28 mark in the second quarter before the Mountaineers found the scoreboard when a 32-yard screen pass from senior quarterback Geno Smith to redshirt junior wide receiver Stedman Bailey cut into the Orange lead and made it 12-7 heading into halftime.

Consecutive Syracuse touchdowns pushed the score to 26-7, but West Virginia answered, again via a Bailey touchdown reception, and trailed 26-14 with 5:41 remaining in the third quarter.

Smith completed 18-of-26 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns and zero interceptions, pushing his season mark to a national-best 42 touchdown passes.

Gulley hit pay dirt on the ensuing Orange possession, and a West Virginia safety on the subsequent drive spelled doom for the Mountaineers.

Holgorsen said there were many things that West Virginia did poorly, including being unable to overcome adversity.

“(This season) our pass defense was bad but our run defense was okay, and then to be in a game like this where you have to rely on your run defense to help you win and you’re not able to do it, it’s pretty frustrating,” he said.

“The bottom line is our team didn’t overcome a lot of things and didn’t do enough to stay in the game.”

West Virginia ends its season with an overall record of 7-6 – a far fall from the No. 4 ranked, 5-0 team that once was.

With the departures of key seniors and Bailey, the outlook for next season remains murky. Holgorsen said this individual loss is only part of the team’s big picture for the future.

“We’re going to learn a lot more about what happened in the Big 12 this year,” he said. “Moving on from here, it’s more about that than this specific game.”

Senior inside receiver Tavon Austin was limited to just 153 all-purpose yards, and he finishes his career as the all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards.

Bailey, who will forego his senior season to enter the NFL Draft, finished with eight catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns; his 25 touchdowns this season lead the nation. He departs West Virginia as the school’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions.

Smith’s career ends as the most decorated passer in program history, as he set or broke every significant passing record during his career.

One thing lacking from Smith’s career resume is a victory against Syracuse; he finished his career 0-3 against the Orange.

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