For quarterback Geno Smith, his swan song in the Pinstripe Bowl Saturday will offer an almost serendipitous crack at a team that has beguiled him in his West Virginia career.
Smith has not beaten Syracuse in two meetings as a starter, and, in his previous game against the Orange at Carrier Dome, was rattled by a blitzing defense that kept him off balance and held him to a season-low completion percentage.
"As a competitor, I'm eager. I feel like it's almost God's funny way for putting things together," Smith said. "Now, I get a chance to get a shot at a team that beat me twice in my career."
Players arrived in New York Tuesday night and Wednesday will begin three days of practice.
They will visit the 9-11 Memorial site, ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, and embark on a dizzying tour through the bright lights of New York. For Smith, preparation began long ago.
He studied film from that game over and over last summer, anticipating it might serve as some kind of blueprint for the team's new Big 12 Conference opponents.
"I studied film of that game all summer trying to get better and figuring out ways to defeat that coverage," he said. "I knew maybe defensive coordinators would see how they did it and try and duplicate it or copycat it. I know exactly what they're doing. Maybe they'll change some things up, maybe not."
In a 49-23 upset a year ago, Smith was sacked four times, threw two interceptions and was held to what was at the time a season-low completion percentage.
The Orange used multiple blitz packages and mixed up coverages, confounding the offense and leaving what coach Dana Holgorsen called some "unfinished business."
"We didn't play well when we went up there, and that was the turning point with Geno, as far as what they did defensively," Holgorsen said. "They do have good players, but their scheme got us a little bit. We'll see how much improvement we made on specific looks. They're very much a dial-up defense kind of team, so you don't know what you're going to get. Seventeen of the first 18 blitzes last year were different, so we have to identify that and get in the right play. He [Smith] has matured a bunch, and, from a scheme standpoint, he is going to be able to see that and make some pretty good checks. I feel comfortable about that."
Exactly what went wrong last year?
Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson sees a combination of a new offense and a game plan that got too greedy after halftime.
"We went out the second half and we gave up three or four possessions in a row with negative plays. Probably got too greedy," Dawson said. "[We were] trying to [go] down the field in situations we didn't really have to. That got us in situations where we went backwards and we didn't execute. ... It's a lot of reasons why."
Dawson said he believes Smith, his offense and the coaching staff have grown in the past year and will be better equipped to handle whatever the Orange throws at them.
"I feel like we are," Dawson said. "We're a lot more efficient across the board. Statistically, we're a little bit better in every category. ... We're one year older. We've got some guys who would like to prove some things."
The most eager among them is Smith.
"I didn't care really who we were going to play, I just think it's kind of ironic we get a chance to play those guys," Smith said. "Deep down, I know I wanted to play them again."mobilehome - wvusports
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @JennMenendez.