GAME NOTES: The Syracuse Orange will face the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the 2013 Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium on Dec. 27.
Scott Shafer's first year at the helm of the Orange has resulted in a bowl berth, the team's third in the last four years. Syracuse went 6-6 under Shafer and clinched its bowl eligibility with a 37-34 win over Boston College on November 30th in the team's regular-season finale.
Jerry Kill missed some time this year dealing with his seizure issues, but he will be on the sidelines for the Golden Gophers in the postseason. His team went an impressive 8-4 on the year, including a late season win over Penn State.
This will be the fourth meeting between the two teams. Minnesota holds the advantage at 3-1, including a 17-10 win at TCF Stadium last season.
Syracuse is led by its 39th ranked rushing offense. The Orange are averaging 193.8 rushing yards per game, on 4.6 yards per carry. The rushing attack falls squarely on the shoulders of Jerome Smith, who had some huge games this season and finished up rushing for 840 yards and 11 touchdowns.
While the ground game has been potent for Syracuse, passing the ball hasn't been as strong, as the Orange have the 102nd ranked passing attack in the nation. They are averaging just 181.5 yards passing per game and have thrown 17 interceptions against only 13 touchdowns. Terrel Hunt (1,450 yards, 10 TDs) has been the leading passer on the team. Hunt does however, present a real problem of the opposition with his ability to run the ball, as he finished second on the team with 426 yards and five scores. Hunt did give way to Drew Allen under center on occasion and he threw for just over 650 yards this year. Wideout Ashton Broyld proved to be the most reliable target downfield for Syracuse, catching 48 balls, for 411 yards.
Syracuse's defense is strong against the run ranking 26th, only allowing 138.3 ypg. They are only giving up 3.9 ypc to opposing teams. They are also an opportunistic defense, forcing 23 turnovers in 2013.
Third-Team All-ACC safety Durrell Eskridge leads the team with 78 total tackles. He is followed by All-ACC Honorable Mention Marquis Spruill (13.5 tackles for loss) and Cameron Lynch (61 tackles). Jay Bromley, also a Third- Team all-conference selection, leads the squad with nine sacks on the season.
The Golden Gophers have had a streaky season, with two four-game winning streaks throughout the year.
Like Syracuse. Minnesota relies on the ground game. The Golden Gophers have the 34th ranked rushing attack. They are averaging an impressive 200.9 ypg and have amassed 23 ground scores. David Cobb (5.1 ypc, seven TDs) has been strong this season racking up 1,111 yards on the ground. Mitch Leidner (4.3 ypc, seven TDs) has provided strong work for Minnesota in relief of Cobb.
Shafer knows that his team will be facing a tough group and recognizes Minnesota's strengths.
"They've got a doggone good running back in Cobb. He can run the football and he runs it well because they block it well up front. They're a sound, tough team. They're going to be a team that doesn't shoot themselves in the foot. I've seen them get more consistent with the way they approach the game, the mistakes they don't make. They don't throw a lot of interceptions and they play a good, tough brand of football, but it's the run game first and foremost."
Passing is not a strong facet of Minnesota's offensive attack. Phillip Nelson (1,288 yards, 9 TDs) was the team's main option under center. His numbers were modest to say the least, although he wasn't asked to do much either. The Golden Gophers only threw the ball 237 times this season.
The Minnesota defense is ranked 41st in the nation, allowing 371.1 ypg. The Golden Gophers limited opponents to 154 ypg on the ground and only gave up 16 touchdowns. Minnesota has the 27th best scoring defense in the nation, only allowing 22.3 ppg.
Damien Wilson anchored the defense with 70 total tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. Theiren Cockran led the squad with 7.5 sacks this season. Cedric Thompson (65 tackles) and Aaron Hill (64 tackles) were also key pieces for Minnesota's strong defense.
If the Golden Gophers beat the Orange it will be only the second season in the last 108 years that the program will finish with nine wins. Coach Kill sees this as a big opportunity for the program as a whole.
"I look it as a great opportunity to compete and make history with the team, 9 games is important to us, a bowl game win was important to us. There's great visibility on ESPN. Those people were great to us last year. I'm excited for them. The most important thing we need to do is move our program forward."
Both teams will be looking to run the ball, while both are strong against the run. This game will likely come down to whichever team can run the ball the most effectively. Cobb's skill is too hard to overlook and it seems unlikely that he will be kept bottled up or too long. Cobb was able to run for over 100 yards against Michigan States first ranked rushing defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Minnesota 23, Syracuse 17