MORGANTOWN - Whether it was good defense or bad offense, West Virginia University's 19-14 setback to Syracuse a year ago sent the then-No. 20 Mountaineers on a two-game Big East losing streak and eventually resulted in the conference's BCS bowl bid going to Connecticut.
West Virginia and then-head coach Bill Stewart eventually were able to right the ship and finished with a 9-3 regular season mark to earn a berth in the Champs Sports Bowl against ACC representative N.C. State.
But, the damage had been done and the results came a couple of months later when first-year Director of Athletics Oliver Luck elevated Dana Holgorsen, who had been hired in January as the team's new offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting, as the old gold and blue's 33rd head coach.
West Virginia wide receiver Stedman Bailey (3) dives into the end zone for a touchdown as Connecticut's Yawin Smallwood (33) tries to bring him down during a Big East game in Morgantown.
Now, the Holgorsen-led Mountaineers take their No. 11 (AP) ranking and 5-1 mark to Syracuse to face a 4-2 Orange squad still searching for its first conference victory in 2011.
WVU has come out victorious in its last four visits to the Carrier Dome, but are 7-7 at the "Big Bubble" since 1983.
"Syracuse presents a bunch of challenges for us, much like Connecticut," explained Holgorsen. "What they did last year, controlling the clock with their offense, we assume they are going to do the same as last year."
Each team returns several players that played big roles in last year's five-point contest including the starting quarterbacks for each squad.
Then-sophomore Geno Smith completed 20-of-37 attempts for 178 yards, but his three first half interceptions allowed the Orange to forge a lead by the intermission while Syracuse's Ryan Nassib made good on only 5-of-15 passes for 63 yards, but did not make a mistake in leading the Orange to the come-from-behind win.
Also returning for the Orange is placekicker Ross Krautman, who connected on field goals of 28, 19, 33 and 22 yards during the first 30 minutes of action a year ago.
But, there also are a lot of differences between the two Big East rivals.
West Virginia, under its newest head coach, has exploded offensively, averaging 40.8 points and 503.5 yards per contest while the defense -which had to replace seven starters -is improving every week.
Following its 43-16 win over Connecticut, the defense is ranked among the conference's best, giving up 301.2 total yards of offense while allowing a mere 119.8 of them to come via the rush.
Statistically the unit is allowing 21.5 points per contest, but both Marshall and LSU scored touchdowns on kickoff returns while the Huskies' lone six-pointer came off of a Ty-Meer Brown 48-yard interception return off of a Paul Millard pass.
"It's (the defense) starting to mesh," added the coach. "But, that's not surprising. Coach (Jeff) Casteel and the defensive guys have been doing the same thing for years. It just takes a little bit of time to get it together when you are playing so many new people."
Offensively, Smith has flourished under Holgorsen's spread attack, leading all Big East passers with 2,159 yards and 16 touchdowns while completing 165-of-258 passes and throwing only three interceptions. Nassib's numbers aren't bad as the Orange's signal-caller has made good on 124-of-192 passes for 1,294 yards and 11 touchdowns with four interceptions, but Marrone's game-plan has revolved around balance this season and Syracuse's Antwon Bailey gives it that by averaging 92.2 yards per game (124-553, 5 TDs).
"We have a great challenge ahead of us," explained Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone. "Geno Smith is playing extremely well and that's the biggest difference from last year to this year.
"He is much more mature. His decision making is much faster."
And, Smith's targets - Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney -have been making big plays throughout WVU's first six games.
"They spread you out which makes it very difficult to take a player out. And, defensively, they have been playing in that system for so long that it is not surprising that they are ranked as high as they are."