Although neither team is ranked nationally, Saturday’s Syracuse-West Virginia Pinstripe Bowl offered plenty of 2013 NFL draft implications. Mountaineers senior Geno Smith is seen in most circles as likely to be the first quarterback off the board in April. West Virginia receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin have early-round projections. Orange senior quarterback Ryan Nassib is viewed as a mid- to late-round prospect.
Snowy, soggy conditions affected on-field performance to some extent Saturday, but Smith generally performed poorly against the Orange. He completed 16-of-24 passes for 187 yards, showing suspect awareness by taking a pair of safeties, and failing to keep his team competitive in the 38-14 loss.
Smith did throw two touchdown passes, making his best throw of the game on a 29-yard scoring pass to Bailey midway through the third quarter. Smith adeptly identified Bailey in single coverage and trusted his receiver to make a play. Bailey executed, shoving Syracuse’s cornerback to the turf to secure what wound up as an easy trip to pay dirt.
Bailey, a junior who has declared for April’s draft, was the star of the Pinstripe Bowl on West Virginia’s side. He racked up eight catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns, scoring for a second time on a slip-screen pass from Smith where Bailey busted a tackle and took the short reception 32 yards to the house. Bailey’s third impressive gain went for 59 in the third quarter on another screen. He piled up all 59 yards after the catch.
Austin, a possible first-round pick, was bottled up as a receiver, catching two passes for 21 yards. A movable chess piece-type weapon, Austin compensated with 58 rushing yards and 74 yards on kickoff returns. Austin’s offensive stats don’t jump off the page, but he continually turned plays that should have lost yards into positive gains. Austin was perhaps the single most dynamic skill-position player in 2012 college football.
Nassib went 12-of-24 for 127 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick. He is a better thrower of the football inside the numbers than to the perimeter. Syracuse won the game on the strength of its rushing attack. Junior halfbacks Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith combined for a whopping 373 yards and two touchdowns on 55 carries (6.78 YPC) as the Orange offensive line consistently blew the Mountaineers’ defensive front off the ball.
Expect to hear plenty more about draft-eligibles Smith, Bailey, Austin, and Nassib in the coming months.