Lauren Brownlow breaks down today's Texas Bowl.
Which two teams say “Texas” more than Syracuse and Minnesota? NONE, I tell you! And thus, these two Texases-away-from-Texas will try to be the very essence of Texas in the Texas Bowl.
Also, the Texas Bowl just makes me think of Tex Mex in a bowl, which makes me think of ... hold on, need to take a snack break.
(Also, did I spend a long time, perhaps an inordinate amount of time, looking for a cowboy hat used as a bowl for food? Maybe.)
SYRACUSE (6-6) VS. MINNESOTA (8-4)
Time: 6:00 p.m.
KEY FOR MINNESOTA
Be able to pass maybe just a little bit more than you have so far, guys. Juuuuust a bit. And by a bit more than they have, I mean probably more than 10 completions. Which Minnesota has in just four games this season. But during the Gophers’ four-game win streak in Big Ten play, either Philip Nelson or Mitch Leidner (but mostly Nelson) were great, completing 49-of-82 passes (59.8%). That’s still barely 20.5 pass attempts a game, but it allowed the running game to be more effective - and the duo (again, mostly Nelson) threw for seven touchdowns and no interceptions in that span. Welp, in the last two games - both losses - Minnesota’s QBs (still mostly Nelson) completed 16-of-48 passes (33.3%, if you’re scoring at home) for no touchdowns and two picks. In fact, seven of Minnesota’s 10 passing touchdowns came during its four-game Big Ten winning streak. Syracuse can be thrown on, but the Orange has done a great job against the run so far this season. Minnesota’s strength is its ground game, but it’s going to have to be able to pass at least a little bit as running against the Orange will be tough sledding.
KEY FOR SYRACUSE
Stop. The. Run. Seriously, do this. Now, stopping the run isn’t going to make Minnesota suddenly start throwing it. Nope, the Gophers have run the ball 548 times this season (compared to 237 pass attempts). And what’s great about Minnesota is that the Gophers don’t abandon what they’re good at, even if it’s not working. No, they ran the ball 50 times against Michigan State to rack up those hard-earned 124 yards on the ground, even if it meant they averaged just 2.5 per rush. And if you’re Syracuse, that’s just fine. Syracuse held all but three teams under 200 yards rushing this year (Northwestern, Georgia Tech and Florida State being the exceptions). Syracuse has struggled against the two truly elite rushing teams it has faced this year in Florida State and Georgia Tech, but the Orange slowed Boston College enough (even though Andre Williams went out early in that game) to prove that it’s legit. And Minnesota isn’t necessarily on the level of a Florida State or Georgia Tech when it comes to running the ball anyway. Syracuse is the only team in the country not to allow a 100-yard rusher this season, a streak which will be tested by Minnesota’s tailback David Cobb.
HERE’S A GUY
David Cobb. Speak of the devil! Cobb was not even on the preseason depth chart for Minnesota at tailback, and he ends this season with 1,000 yards. And that’s without getting double-digit carries until the third game this season. During Minnesota’s four-game winning streak, Cobb was fantastic - 107 carries for 568 yards, or 5.3 per rush. He’s been pretty good in every game this season, but those four especially. He had 101 yards on 27 carries against Michigan State and was held without a catch for the only time in Big Ten play, but other than that, he’s been incredibly productive, averaging 5.1 yards a carry on 219 rushes this year, scoring seven touchdowns on the ground (tied for the team lead) and 92.6 yards a game. And he’s Minnesota’s third-leading receiver (although that’s not a huge accomplishment since the leading receiver has just 25 catches) with 16 catches for 162 yards, or 10.1 per catch. Syracuse has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this year, and Cobb has seemingly been given the ball continually in each game until he hits that mark. It will be interesting to see if that continues.
Terrel Hunt. He’s going to have to have a nice game for the Orange to win. But it’s been that way most of this season. In Syracuse’s four ACC wins, Hunt ran for 285 yards and three touchdowns on 45 attempts (6.3 per carry) compared to 236 yards on 46 attempts in all other games this season. As far as throwing the ball goes, really, Syracuse has just asked Hunt not to screw anything up. And for the most part, he didn’t, although it didn’t always look … artful? Hunt had seven touchdowns to no interceptions in his first three games of action (two of which were against Wagner and Tulane, but hey). Then, um, ACC play started and he didn’t have a passing touchdown for six straight games. Hunt wasn't asked to throw a lot - he attempted 20 or more passes just seven times all season and just four times in that span without a touchdown pass. And then in the final two games of the season against Pittsburgh and Boston College, all of a sudden, wow. He completed 47-of-71 passes in that two-game stretch for 429 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Syracuse went 1-1 in those games, losing a close one to Pitt and beating Boston College. The Orange still doesn’t need Hunt to do a ton, but the more he can run when he can and, you know, complete a few passes, the better off Syracuse will be.
STATS ARE FOR LOSERS
This is Syracuse’s second postseason trip to Texas. The first was the 1960 Cotton Bowl when it beat Texas 23-14 to win the national championship. … Syracuse is looking to win its third straight bowl game. … Minnesota leads the all-time series with Syracuse, 3-1. The last time Syracuse won was when former wideout Marvin Harrison (remember him?) scored two touchdowns, one on a pass from Donavan McNabb. Ah, memories! … This year marks just the third time since 1967 that Minnesota has won eight games or more. That’s not a misprint. It’s been 1999, 2002 and 2003. And now this year. That’s … well, it’s something … It gets better - a win would give Minnesota just its second nine-win season since 1905 (!!!!). The last came in 2003 (10 wins). … Minnesota is 7-0 this year and 14-0 under Jerry Kill when leading at halftime (and 1-0 this year/3-0 overall when tied).
Syracuse, 27-19. This is my hunch, only because Minnesota seems annoyed to be in this bowl and Syracuse seems thrilled to be in it. ALL OF THE NARRATIVES!