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Texas Bowl: Minnesota and Syracuse both feature heavy rushing attacks

Sam Cooper
Dr. Saturday

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Minnesota's David Cobb (USA Today Sports)

Texas Bowl
Syracuse vs. Minnesota
Houston, Tex.
Dec. 27, 2013

Minnesota rallied around head coach Jerry Kill to reel off an 8-4 season that included impressive Big Ten wins over Nebraska and Penn State. Kill suffered a seizure before the Golden Gophers’ game at Michigan and decided to take a leave of absence to focus on treating his epilepsy. Tracy Claeys, Kill’s longtime defensive coordinator, served as head coach, but Kill served as a source of motivation for his players.

With running back and Texas-native David Cobb (1,111 yards and 7 TDs) leading the way, Minnesota has featured an impressive rushing attack that averaged 200.9 yards per game on the ground. Whether sophomore Philip Nelson or redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner is in at quarterback, both are threats to run and combined for 13 rushing touchdowns while averaging fewer than 20 passing attempts per game.

On the other side, Syracuse (6-6), in its first season under Scott Shafer, clinched bowl eligibility with a gutsy season-ending 34-31 win over Boston College. Syracuse also heavily relies on its ground attack, finishing fourth in the ACC with 193.8 rushing yards per game. Junior Jerome Smith led the Orange with 840 yards and 11 touchdowns.

If Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman dominates the way he has at certain points this year, Orange sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt might be forced to take to the air more than usual.

Stopping the run will be key for both sides.

MASCOT FIGHT

Since the color orange has no fighting skills that I am aware of, I am picturing a (golden) gopher eating an orange. Edge: Minnesota.

PREDICTIONS

Graham: Minnesota 28, Syracuse 10. It's hard not to root for Minnesota considering what it's been through this season with coach Jerry Kill. While the Gophers did lose their final two regular season games, I think they are a much better team than the Orange.

Nick: Minnesota 20, Syracuse 17. Take heart, Syracuse fans. This won’t be a blowout like the Florida State game. It’ll actually be close until the very end, when Syracuse will have a chance to tie on a late field goal. However, someone from Minnesota will hijack the Reliant Stadium video control room and put up the video of the dramatic gopher, which will force the kick to go awry.

Sam: Minnesota 21, Syracuse 13. Neither offense can throw the ball very well, but Minnesota's offensive and defensive lines are both superior to Syracuse's lines. In the end, Philip Nelson and David Cobb's ability to run the ball and eat up the clock will be the difference.

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