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October 6, 2007Game Ticker | box score
SYRACUSE, N.Y.(AP) Rich Rodriguez was worried about his West Virginia Mountaineers after they lost a game they easily could've won. He's not worried any more.
Owen Schmitt scored his first two touchdowns of the season, defensive tackle Keilen Dykes returned an interception 19 yards for another score, and the 13th-ranked Mountaineers got back on track Saturday with a 55-14 victory over Syracuse.
The Mountaineers (5-1, 1-1 Big East), who committed six turnovers in a 21-13 loss last week at South Florida that seriously damaged their national championship hopes, converted two deflected passes into touchdowns in the first half against the Orange (1-5, 1-1) to build a commanding 31-7 lead. West Virginia ended up scoring the most points ever allowed by Syracuse at home.
Pat White, who sustained a thigh bruise against South Florida and sat out the second half, was banged up again. He strained a chest muscle midway through the third quarter and never returned. Before he was relieved for the second straight week by Jarrett Brown, White was 12-of-15 for 148 yards and one touchdown and had 14 carries for a team-high 89 yards and another TD.
The maligned Syracuse defense held Steve Slaton to 69 yards rushing on 15 carries. Slaton entered the game averaging 122.4 yards a game, second in the nation. Everything else went West Virginia's way.
"You always have concerns after a loss," Rodriguez said after the 100th victory of his coaching career. "We lost a lot of our confidence last week. I wanted our guys to get their confidence back, and the only way you can do that is to make plays."
It didn't take long. Syracuse, which entered the game tied for first nationally with only one interception allowed in its first five games, gave up its second on just the third play from scrimmage.
Andrew Robinson's short pass to wideout Taj Smith was high and deflected to Mountaineers cornerback Ryan Mundy, who returned it 26 yards to the Syracuse 37. Five plays later, Schmitt scored from the 7 on a third-down option play for a 7-0 lead.
"The first touchdown felt good, it got me up and going," said Schmitt, who finished with 39 yards rushing on eight carries. "I was able to get in a groove."
Syracuse, which upset Louisville 38-35 on the road two weeks ago despite being a 36-point underdog, quickly tied it, and visions of another stunner didn't seem so farfetched.
Freshman Mike Holmes returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to the West Virginia 45, and the Orange drove to a score in 10 plays. Robinson hit Mike Williams over the middle for 11 yards on a third-and-8 play to help set up Curtis Brinkley's 1-yard TD run.
The Mountaineers came right back behind White, who began the go-ahead drive with a 14-yard keeper and finished it with a 1-yard run on third down for a 14-7 lead with 2:13 remaining in the first quarter.
After the Orange defense forced West Virginia into a three-and-out, the game changed on another deflected pass. Robinson's screen pass to Smith bounced off linebacker Reed Williams and the 6-foot-5, 295-pound Dykes caught the ball in stride and rumbled into the end zone for a 21-7 lead.
"The turnovers, that's to me what got it going. It changes the perspective of the whole game," Syracuse coach Greg Robinson said after the most lopsided loss in his three years as head coach. "Turnovers can kill you. All of a sudden, what's a pretty darned good football game is out of reach."
It was the first time a West Virginia defensive lineman had scored since Jeff Seals in a 38-10 victory over Boston College in 1981.
"That was the longest 25 yards of my life," said Dykes, who raced to the bench afterward for a shot of oxygen. "The defense needed to get to the ball and make plays. It pays to be in the right place at the right time."
Syracuse failed to gain a first down on its next two possessions, and Schmitt keyed another West Virginia score, gaining 31 yards on a screen pass before scoring on a 1-yard run with 1:50 left in the half.
Instead of breaking another face mask with his pounding running, Schmitt helped break open a game in which five different West Virginia players scored touchdowns.
"Losing is always hard, and with a score like that it's even worse," Syracuse defensive end Jameel McClain said. "I'm sick. I guess we did see everything they had to offer."