Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib might be the key to today's Pinstripe Bowl.
By Jenn Menendez Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
NEW YORK -- Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib doesn't grab national headlines like West Virginia's Geno Smith has throughout his career.
And Smith certainly will be the main attraction today in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
But the Mountaineers defense understands Nassib has evolved as a player and leader and will provide a serious challenge, especially if left untouched in the pocket.
"I think you're going to see a quarterback who is in complete command compared to a year ago," said Keith Patterson, West Virginia's defensive coordinator. "Seemed like there was a lot of indecision, a lot of doubt a year ago with Ryan. This year, he's an operator. He seems to be completely in control and in a groove."
West Virginia (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5), 3:15 p.m. today, Yankee Stadium, New York. West Virginia is favored by 3 1/2.
TV, Radio, Internet:
ESPN, WBGG-AM (970), Mountaineer Sports Network.
Led by QB Geno Smith, who has thrown for 4,004 yards this season but never has beaten Syracuse. ... RG Jeff Braun will start at center in place of academically ineligible Joe Madsen. ... WR Stedman Bailey and WR/RB Tavon Austin accounted for a combined 230 receiving yards per game.
Led by QB Ryan Nassib, who passed for 301.6 yards a game this season. ... Started the season 2-4. then finished 5-1 for a share of Big East title. ... Rushed for 216.2 yards in past six games. ... Scored on 27 of 29 trips to the red zone in last six games of regular season. ... WR Alec Lemon leads the team with 96.6 receiving ypg.
West Virginia and Syracuse are No. 14 and No. 15 on the list of the winningest programs in college football. The Mountaineers have won 708 games, Syracuse 697.
Nassib has averaged 301.6 passing yards per game and led an offense that collected 501.3 total yards in their last six regular-season games.
He also has thrown a Big East-record 780 completions and set multiple records in his final collegiate season. His teammates say he is ready to make a statement.
The Orange landed in the Pinstripe Bowl in 2010, and Greg Paulus wound up starting the game.
"The first year we were here, Ryan was going in as a starter. Greg came in and took his spot," said offensive lineman Justin Pugh. "Ryan played a little bit but nothing like he was supposed to. I think that was big for Ryan."
Pugh also pointed out how much that game haunted Nassib.
"He probably won't tell you this, but [it was] like he took a step back and had to get going again. You want to come back and prove to everybody that he's the starting quarterback of the Syracuse Orange," said Pugh. "This offseason, it turned into Ryan's team."
Pugh said Nassib has the kind of leadership skills necessary to lead, and, coupled with his arm, that makes him an NFL prospect.
"I think Ryan's confidence level has stepped up. And, when he comes in that huddle, it's his huddle, and he takes over," said Pugh. "It's his show."
Smith, of course, also has set many program records. He has 11,461 career passing yards.
"Right now, me versus Geno. I'm definitely not seeing it that way," said Nassib. "Geno's a great football player, he has the potential to take over a game, but I can't worry about that stuff. I've got 11 guys on the other side trying to stop our offense."
Nassib said he has worked hard throughout his career to find ways to improve his performance.
"That's something that I've done my whole life. Everything I do, I just want to make sure I'm getting better. At the end of the day, the decisions I make will make me a better football player, a better man," said Nassib.
But, if he has been under the radar, he has not complained in public.
"You know I'm not really one to tell," Nassib said. "Once the season's over I guess I'll have my opportunity to show what I've got, just because of the fact a lot of guys on our team are under the radar."
Patterson said Nassib's poise and the team's streamlined offense played a key role Syracuse's late-season, 5-1 record.
"They've got I would say seven to eight pass concepts that they are really, really good at," said Patterson. "They operate extremely well. [The offensive line has] done a great job of protecting him. You cannot allow him to sit there and run the football and be able to set up the play-action pass. You do that and you're going to be in for a long day."