NEW YORK – Prince-Tyson Gulley ran for 217 yards and had three touchdowns, Syracuse scored twice on safeties and the Orange bid a snow-covered farewell to the Big East with a 38-14 victory over West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl Saturday.
Syracuse (8-5) will enter the Atlantic Coast Conference on a roll after finishing this season with six wins in its last seven games, capped by its second postseason victory at Yankee Stadium in the last three years.
In a bowl game played in a baseball stadium with weather better suited for a playoff game in Green Bay, the team that plays in a dome ended up being better equipped to handle the elements.
The Orange leaned on their running game to plow through former Big East rival West Virginia (7-6) and the snow. Jerome Smith added 158 yards rushing.
Geno Smith connected with Stedman Bailey for two touchdown passes, but the Mountaineers’ quarterback also was sacked in the end zone in the first half and called for intentional grounding in the end zone in the second half as he tried to avoid another sack.
Smith, who was an early Heisman Trophy front-runner as the Mountaineers got off to a 5-0 start this season, was 18 for 26 for 197 yards in the final game of his record-breaking career. The NFL awaits.
Same goes for Ryan Nassib, though Syracuse didn’t ask much of its talented senior quarterback. He threw two touchdown passes and an interception. His most impressive feat on this day was surviving being driven into the frozen turf by Terence Garvin on a sack in the first half. Nassib missed only one play.
Snow fell just about all game, giving most of the field a white dusting. Fans were bundled and players not in the game tried to do the same. It took a while for those potent offenses – both ranked in the top 25 nationally in yards per game – to heat up, which seemed appropriate considering the conditions.
A goal-line stand by West Virginia in the second quarter kept Syracuse out of the end zone, but set up the Orange for a scoring run.
Left at their own 1, the Mountaineers tried to pass out of their end zone, but Smith was smothered by blitzing linebackers Cameron Lynch and Siriki Diabate for a safety to make it 5-0 – a baseball score, of course.
The Orange followed that up with a 33-yard touchdown run by Gulley to make it 12-0 with 6:07 left in the second.
The Mountaineers responded with their first sustained drive and Bailey took a quick pass, darted and broke tackles, and scooted 32 yards to the end zone to make it 12-7.
The Orange extended the lead to 12 points with a touchdown drive to start the second half when the Orange caught a break – and touchdown pass. Nassib’s throw was tipped around the goal line, but floated safely into the waiting arms of intended receiver Beckett Wales for an 11-yard score.
West Virginia appeared to answer with a touchdown of its own, when Andrew Buie broke free for a TD run on fourth-and-2. Not so fast. A holding call on the Mountaineers wiped out the play and sent coach Dana Holgorsen on to the field screaming at the officials.
It didn’t help. Instead of a touchdown, a punt.
Moments later another close call, this time on a fumble by Smith which was reviewed to determine if it was an incomplete pass, went Syracuse’s way, and again the Orange capitalized.
On the next play, Gulley broke through the line bounced to the outside and went 67 yards for a touchdown to make it 26-7 with 6:52 left in the third.
West Virginia wouldn’t let Syracuse pull away. Smith found Bailey deep down the sideline beating one-on-one coverage for a 29-yard score 1:11 later.
Right back came the Orange, nine plays, 70 yards, with Gulley taking a swing pass from Nassib 10 yards for his third touchdown of the day.
A minute and half later, Brandon Sharpe was taking down Smith in the end zone, when the quarterback made a futile attempt to dump the pass off. The officials dropped the flag and the second safety of the day made it 35-14 with 1:08 left in the third.
The 60th meeting between these teams, but first in a bowl, ended up being a romp in the snow for Syracuse.