WVU’s Holgorsen, SU’s Babers Meet The Media In Orlando
Orlando, Fla.–The head coaches of the two Camping World Bowl combatants spent 21 minutes and 44 seconds seated at a table on a riser at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in downtown Orlando Thursday morning, answering questions from the assembled media, swapping stories and reliving past tales.
West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen and Syracuse’s Dino Babers will face off for the first time as head coaches Friday evening in the Camping World Bowl (5:15 p.m. on ESPN), but their paths have crossed in the past. During his 35-year college coaching career, Babers spent time as an assistant in the Big 12 at Texas A&M (2001-02) and Baylor (2008-11). Holgorsen was also an assistant coach in the league at that time, first at Texas Tech (2000-07) and then at Oklahoma State (2010). Their teams met on the field then, and they also spent time together at the same coaching conferences and clinics.
Thursday morning they were together again, answering questions about those old days and also about their present squads.
Each team has spent the past four days in Orlando, and while the coaches for both said their players have had a lot of fun, they also seemed anxious to get to the task that brought them to Central Florida in the first place – the Camping World Bowl.
“We’re glad to be down in Orlando once again,” said Holgorsen, whose Mountaineers also played, and lost, to Miami, in this game two years ago when its title sponsor was Russell Athletic. “This is an awesome opportunity to be able to play our last game in 2018. It’s very fitting to be able to play Syracuse and Coach Babers. We go way back, and these two programs go way back as well. We’re excited to be here, and we’ve had a great time. Florida Citrus Sports does such a great job with this. It’s an awesome bowl destination. The guys have had good time. Now it’s time to relax, rest up for about 48 hours and get ready to play.”
West Virginia enters the bowl game with an 8-3 record and ranked No. 16 in the country, though it lost its final two regular season games, falling to Oklahoma State (45-41) and Oklahoma (59-56).
Syracuse comes to Orlando ranked No. 20 in the CFP poll and sporting a 9-3 record. Its only three losses were to No. 2 Clemson (27-23), Pitt (44-37 in OT) and No. 3 Notre Dame (36-3).
Much has changed for each team since the end of their respective regular season, though. Three of WVU’s senior starters on offense (quarterback Will Grier, offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste and wide receiver Gary Jennings) have opted not to play in the bowl game. Meanwhile the Orange will be without two defensive starters – defensive end Alton Robinson, who is arguably the best Orange defender, and nose tackle McKinley Williams – who are being held out for “personal reasons.”
“That’s another deal that me and Dino made when this game came about,” joked Holgorsen, giving a wry glance to Babers seated immediately to his left. “We had a couple guys out, so he tried to even it out with a couple of defensive guys that aren’t going to play. It looks to me like it’s an evenly matched game. We both have pretty much the same record. We got a couple offensive guys out. He’s got a couple of defensive guys out. So we’ll line up and see what happens.”
Because of those changes to the starting lineups, particularly on the West Virginia side, the betting line has swung considerably since the bowl matchup was first announced at the beginning of the month. The initial line had the Mountaineers as a seven-point favorite, but now SU is favored by 1.5 points.
“Dino is such a great offensive innovator, and they do a great job offensively,” noted Holgorsen. “We’re pretty familiar with what they do offensively based on where he’s been and what they’ve done.
“We expected a lot of up-tempo, fast-paced offensive stuff,” added Holgorsen, who is 2-4 in his previous bowl games as WVU’s head coach. “Then you look at them on defense and special teams and they get your attention real quick on those sides of the ball as well. So really a tough opponent and a great football team.”
Statistically the squads are similar. Both offenses put up a bunch of points (WVU averaged 42.3 points a game in the regular season and SU 40.8), and their numbers on defense aren’t far apart either (WVU allowed 26.5 points a game and SU 27.8).
“We’ve got our hand full with (West Virginia),” noted Babers. “Obviously, you talk about the Big 12, you see the explosiveness that they have. West Virginia is one of the most explosive teams over there. Dana does a fantastic job of breaking people down and putting those guys in key matchups to score points. You can see it throughout the season.
“From a special teams standpoint, they’re solid,” added Babers, who holds a 17-19 record in his three seasons at Syracuse. “Their defense is extremely unique. The 3-3 stack is really, really unique. There are a lot of people that don’t really know what they’re going to do with it. Sometimes you think you have an answer and then it turns into something else and it’s an okie or it’s a four down. They have a lot of flexibility, and it gets a lot of athletes on the field. So they can bring their blitzes from all over the place. The quarterback has to keep his heads on a swivel. Last time I checked, they’re not an iguana; they can’t see out the side of their head. So those guys are coming from everywhere and we need to be really on top of what we’re doing, crossing our T’s and dotting our I’s if we’re going to have an opportunity to have some success against it.”
Syracuse is making its first bowl appearance since 2013. It’s four-year bowl drought was the third longest for any Power 5 program, topped only by Kansas (10 seasons) and Oregon State (five seasons). When it has gone to a bowl, SU has been successful, as its 62.0 winning percentage in bowl games (15-9-1) is the eighth best among college programs with at least 15 appearances.
West Virginia is 15-21 all-time in bowl games, and has just a 2-10 record in postseason contests played in the state of Florida, winning only the 2007 Gator Bowl (38-35 over Georgia Tech) and the 2012 Orange Bowl (70-33 over Clemson).
This is the second time WVU and Syracuse have met in a bowl game and the 61st time the two lapsed rivals have met overall. The Orange took a 38-14 victory from West Virginia in the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl, and SU leads the all-time series 33-27
As far as Friday’s outcome, history shows the Mountaineers have to reach at least 30 points to have any chance at victory in a bowl game. In the last 34 years, WVU has played in 24 bowl games. It is 0-13 in those postseason contests when scoring 29 points or less, and 6-5 when reaching at least the 30-point plateau. The last time West Virginia won a bowl game when scoring fewer than 30 points was a 20-16 win over Kentucky in the 1983 Hall of Fame Bowl.