Syracuse-Minnesota Preview

If Minnesota has bitter memories of last year’s Texas Bowl that

ended hopes of a winning season, it will have a chance for

redemption in the very same game.

Syracuse, meanwhile, has an opportunity to show the Golden

Gophers that it is a much-improved team than the one which lost to

them a season ago.

Both teams are known for solid rushing attacks as they get ready

for their matchup Friday in the Texas Bowl in Houston.

Minnesota (8-4) finished last season at 6-7 with a 34-31 loss to

Texas Tech in this bowl, blowing a seven-point lead in the final

1:10.

“We enjoyed our experience last year and wish we could have come

away with a victory,” coach Jerry Kill said. “I know our players,

especially the 12 from Texas, welcome the opportunity to represent

the University of Minnesota in a state that has great football

tradition.”

The Golden Gophers are seeking their second nine-win season in

108 years, and reaching that milestone has created plenty of

incentive.

“We have a great opportunity to compete and continue to make

history as a team,” Kill said. “Nine games, winning nine games is

important to us, winning a bowl game is important to us.”

Syracuse (6-6) endured an uneven first season under new coach

Scott Shafer. The Orange lost both coach Doug Marrone and

quarterback Ryan Nassib to the NFL before their first season in the

Atlantic Coast Conference.

That’s why last season’s meeting in which Minnesota won 17-10 at

home Sept. 22 figures to have little impact in this game. Neither

quarterback that started that contest is back.

Another difference is that the Golden Gophers didn’t have

running back David Cobb in that one. Cobb was sixth in the Big Ten

with 1,111 rushing yards along with seven touchdowns in 2013.

“They’ve got a doggone good running back in Cobb,” Shafer told

Syracuse’s official website. “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.”

Cobb is one of the Texas natives who expects plenty of support

from the crowd.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to go back to Texas and for me

to play in front of the home crowd and make a good impression and

for our team to get nine wins,” he said.

Shafer’s presence also adds an intriguing twist since he was the

defensive coordinator at Northern Illinois from 2000-03 when Kill

was at the other end of the state coaching Southern Illinois. Kill

later became coach at Northern after Shafer moved on.

“He’s familiar with us because we’ve known him and we’re

familiar with coach,” Kill said. “So that makes it interesting and

that makes it a lot of fun because he’s a great football

coach.”

Shafer also likes to run the ball as Syracuse finished fourth in

the ACC with 193.8 rushing yards per game. Jerome Smith, who had 11

rushing touchdowns and 840 yards on the ground this season, gained

52 yards on nine carries in last year’s meeting.

Who controls the line of scrimmage will be critical since

neither quarterback figures to be called upon often to make plays.

The Orange had the ACC’s third-worst passing attack with 181.5

yards per game, while the Gophers ranked last in the Big Ten at

141.8.

Minnesota’s 237 pass attempts are the sixth-lowest total in the

FBS. The Gophers were picked off seven times.

“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,”

Shafer said.

Gophers starting quarterback Philip Nelson was forced to leave a

14-3 loss Nov. 30 at then-No. 11 Michigan State that ended the

regular season, with Mitch Leidner finishing up.

Orange quarterback Terrel Hunt will have to be wary of Minnesota

senior defensive back Brock Vereen, who feels that last year’s

experience in Houston gives his team an edge.

“I think it’s definitely an advantage that Syracuse won’t have,”

Vereen said. “We’ve been in that city, we’ve practiced at that high

school field, we’ve played in that stadium so it’s definitely

something to be excited about.”

Minnesota has won three of four meetings between the

schools.

Syracuse’s only previous bowl appearance in this state was a

23-14 victory over Texas in the 1960 Cotton Bowl.