The Minnesota Golden Gophers will head to Houston and Reliant Stadium for a bowl game for the second straight year, as they’ll take on the Syracuse Orange in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27. The Gophers head into the game with an 8-4 record (4-4 in the Big Ten), while the Orange are 6-6 (4-4 in the ACC).
Here’s my preview of next Friday night’s game.
The Gophers and the Orange played in September of 2012 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, and the Gophers won the game 17-10. Both starting quarterbacks from that game (MarQueis Gray and Ryan Nassib) have moved on to the NFL, and the offenses for the two teams have clearly been run-oriented this year.
Gophers’ running back David Cobb started the season buried on the depth chart, but he finished sixth in the Big Ten in rushing (1,111 yards) along with seven touchdowns. Minnesota’s second and third-leading rushers are quarterbacks Mitch Leidner (89 carries for 383 yards and seven touchdowns) and Philip Nelson (91 carries for 350 yards and six touchdowns). Overall Minnesota was 34th in the country in rushing offense (200.9 yards per game), but just 116th (last in the Big Ten) in passing offense (141.8 yards per game).
Syracuse had the ACC’s fourth-best rushing offense this season (193.8 yards per game), led by running back Jerome Smith (840 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) and dual-threat quarterback Terrel Hunt (1,450 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions; 91 carries for 426 yards and five touchdowns).
Player to Watch-Minnesota
Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman led the Gophers in tackles for loss this season (11) and had nine passes defensed as well. He earned All-Big Ten First Team honors, and he was named to the AP’s All-America Third Team this week. Hageman is on track to be a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and if Minnesota forces Syracuse’s offense off-schedule he’ll be the driving force.
Player to Watch-Syracuse
Hunt has completed close to 61 percent of his passes this season, but if the Orange are forced to pass the ball a lot he’ll have to make critical throws against a Minnesota secondary that has been opportunistic at times this season. Putting pressure on him and keep him contained to the pocket will be key for the Gophers.
Prediction- Minnesota 24, Syracuse 13
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.