It seemed like a 60-minute scene in a Disney sports movie. Not one or two or three or four things went right for the Syracuse University football program Friday night in front of a 45,265 fans at the Carrier Dome, but everything did. In a stunning 49-23 drubbing of the University of West Virginia in a Big East Conference contest that featured the Orange (5-2, 1-1 Big East) retaining the Schwartzwalder Trophy for the second straight year, this time on national television, from the Mountaineers (5-2, 1-1), who entered the game ranked No. 11 in the AP Poll, No. 14 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll, No. 15 in the Bowl Championship Series standings and a 13 1/2-point favorite.
Syracuse did what many thought was improbable, maybe, almost impossible. For not just one or two or three but four quarters, SU's league-worst passing defense halted WVU's league-best passing attack; its special teams not only averaged 43.5 yards per kickoff return to help SU win the field possession battle, but it also scored a 98-yard TD on a kickoff return by senior wide receiver Dorian Graham; and its offense didn't kick a single field goal all game, instead, it compiled six TDs that led to a season-high point total.
"I am just proud of the kids, I am proud of the assistant coaches, I am proud of the administration" said SU head coach Doug Marrone after the game. "The story is really not here (with me), I don't know how many answers I can give you. We made plays. The kids executed, they played extremely hard. They always have. We made plays at the right time."
Before the game, experts thought there was no way that the Syracuse defense could stop WVU's junior quarterback Geno Smith and his trio of talented wide receivers -- junior Tavon Austin and sophomores Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney. With a secondary that was allowing a league-high 293-passing yards per game and defensive line that had averaged the second-lowest sack total in the league (2.13) there was no reason to believe that Friday night was going to be any different from the others.
But, it was.
"(Defensive coordinator) coach (Scott) Shafer did a good job, did a great job, of actually knowing when to call blitzes and knowing when they were going to run," said Syracuse senior defensive end Chandler Jones, who missed the last five games, but compiled six solo tackles and two sacks Friday. "So, congratulations to coach Shafter. He put a great game plan together."
The Orange defense finished the game with four sacks, forced Smith to throw two interceptions -- one came deep inside SU's territory midway through the second quarter -- and held the Mountaineers to their second-lowest point total of the season.
Meanwhile, the Syracuse offense totaled 443 yards -- 194 on the ground -- held the ball 15 minutes longer than WVU and every time it crept inside WVU's 20-yard line it scored a TD.
"They play a defense that we're not really used to seeing," said SU senior quarterback Ryan Nassib, who passed for four touchdowns and ran for another. "That extra time to prepare and watch film really helped us out. We had a great plan. We did a good job of mixing up pass and run. Our running game was doing well and usually when that does well in our system that opens up the passing game."
Syracuse jumped out to a 21-9 halftime advantage thanks to a passing and running TD from Nassib and Gramham's electrifying kick return. As the second half began, almost everyone expected WVU's high-octane offense to respond quickly. It did with an opening drive of 14-plays, 57-yards that ended on a one-yard TD plunge by junior running back Shawne Alston, who helped trimmed SU's margin to 21-16.
Needing to respond with a score of their own, the Orange did with a six-play, 51-yard drive that ended when senior tight end David Stevens caught a 27-yard reception from Nassib. The drive, which made the score 28-16 with 5:13 to go in the third quarter, was set up by a stellar 47-yard kickoff return from freshman Jeremiah Kobena.
From there, Syracuse's defense, special teams and offense never let up. The Orange defense stopped WVU's next two drives, while the offense scored TDs on its next two possessions. By the time the Mountaineers got back on the scoreboard the game was too far out of hand.
"Now, we know what we can do," said Nassib. "This is something that can help us bring us forward."
A complete game like this may not happen again this season, but one thing is for sure, it came at the perfect time. On national television, against a top-15 program that nobody thought Syracuse could hang with, Marrone and the Orange put together a flawless performance that not even Disney sports writers could have thought up. Then again, who would have?
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.