It's never a good practice to place a single victory on just one player, especially in football when it usually takes a team effort to solidify a win. But, on Friday night, in Syracuse University's 49-23 victory over Big East Conference foe and nationally-ranked West Virginia University at the Carrier Dome, onlookers couldn't help but notice the difference senior defensive end Chandler Jones had on SU's defensive line.
Jones, who Friday finally returned to the starting lineup after previously missing the last six weeks with a lower-body injury, totaled six solo tackles, including two sacks, and was all over the field and around the Big East's most prolific passer, junior quarterback Geno Smith. Smith, who totaled 338-passing yards with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions, was sacked a total of four times and hurried or pressured about three times as much by the Orange interior.
Before the game, there were questions surrounding how the Orange would slow down the Mountaineers offense, which ranked 11th nationally. Of course, one of those ways was to try and pressure Smith, but that was going to be easier said than done considering in the last five games, without Jones, the SU defense had averaged just two sacks per game, while WVU's offensive line entered Friday's contest allowing a league-low 1.17 sacks per game.
But, somehow, Syracuse, led by defense coordinator Scott Shafer, was able to come up with a game plan that allowed Jones to wreack havoc on Smith all-game long.
"Overall, I think everyone up front did a nice job," said SU head coach Doug Marrone after the game. "I think at one time we had 11 or 12 hits on the quarterback, which was important for us... We said it during the week. We just had to do a good job of keeping the quarterback off balance, and we did a good job with that for most of the game."
By the end of the game, Smith was also singing the praises of Syracuse's defensive effort.
"First off I just want to tip my hat off to Syracuse," said Smith. "They played a great game. They really hit us in the mouth tonight. We didn’t respond very well. It’s tough. It hurts. I can’t even lie and say it doesn’t hurt. I’m bleeding right now in my soul."
Meahnwhile, Jones admitted that he had been looking forward to the opportunity of getting after Smith.
"Actually, since I was out with my lower body injury I knew I was going to make the West Virginia game." said Jones. "So I have been scouting him since then. At the end of the game, I walked up to Geno Smith and told him he was a (great) player and I have a lot of respect for him. He is a great player and his passion for the game is off the charts. We just game planned and got a lot of pressure on Geno, so I am psyched for that."
This season was suppose to be the year that the 6-foot-5, 265-pound senior from Endicott, NY was going to break out and earn himself a spot on the big boards of NFL Draft experts. However, Jones didn't record a sack in SU's season-opening overtime victory, 36-29, against the University of Wake Forest and then he went down with an injury that nobody really had a grasp on.
The questions began to surface: How serious was Jones' injury? Would he be able to be productive when he came back? Was he ever that good?
Well, Jones answered all the questions Friday in a monster effort that, for a moment, had him trending world wide on Twitter. His two sacks came at a critical point in the game -- SU had just taken a 21-9 advantage after senior wide receiver Dorian Graham returned a WVU kickoff 98 yards for a TD. The Mountaineers tried to respond with a TD drive of their own, but on second-and-10 from midfield, Jones sacked Smith for a 12-yard loss. On third-and-22, Jones again got to Smith, this time for a seven-yard loss and forced WVU to punt. SU took the 12-point margin into the half.
In the second half, with SU leading 28-16, Jones used all of his body length and strength to sniff out a first-down, screen pass to WVU freshman running back Dustin Garrison, who could have ran 20-plus yards but, instead, was tackled after just four. Three plays, later the Mountaineers punted. 11 plays later, SU's senior tight end Nick Provo caught his third TD pass of the contest and helped the Orange take a 35-16 lead with less than a minute to go in the third quarter.
If Jones can stay healthy and continue to put on shows like he did two days ago, the Orange faithful may have something to be really excited about. And, no. I am just talking about Chandler Jones.
SB Nation New York blogged live from the Carrier Dome. Check back for more postgame coverage of Syracuse's shocking victory over West Virginia. Also, follow along on Twitter at SBNationNY or Jared_E_Smith.