Alright it’s just about here! We haven’t seen Syracuse Football in action in a month at this point. The 7-5 Orange look to defend home turf against the Gophers from Minnesota. SU beat Minny in a postseason game back in 2013. Now, the ‘Cuse tries to do the same nine years later and take down a Big Ten opponent for the second time this season.
The Gophers are an extremely good football team and better than their 8-4 record would suggest. The Block M claims a top 5 Big Ten offense as well as a top 2 defense when it comes to scoring.
Minnesota prides itself on running the football with bowling ball tailback Mohamed Ibrahim and a burly offensive line. This is a really tough draw for SU, but it’s a winnable game. Don’t forget, Syracuse beat the Big Ten West Division Champions in Purdue earlier this year. Here are SU’s keys to win the bowl game:
1. Avoid 3rd and Long Situations
This is true for every game but especially this one. Minnesota represents the top 3rd down defense in the Big Ten Conference. The Gophers hold to just a 26% conversion rate. On the flip side, SU wasn’t terribly great in the chain moving statistic. The Orange slotted in the 10th spot out of 14 teams in the ACC with just a 36% first down pickup rate. No Sean Tucker in this game for Syracuse, so SU doesn’t have a guy in the backfield it can trust to snag a bundle of yards when needed. New OC Jason Beck needs to play every sequence strategically and grab yards in chunks to avoid 3rd and long movies.
2. Possess the Football
Obviously you must do this to score but boy oh boy, Minnesota really makes the pigskin feel at home. The Gophers lead the Big Ten and hold the rock for over 35 minutes per game. Syracuse is really down in numbers from a holistic roster standpoint. If the Gophers have the leather for 30 minutes or more, there’s no shot SU is winning this game.
That Orange defense is going to be as gassed as somebody climbing the Alps. So, Coach Beck and Company have to pick up first downs and piece together drives to not only score, but allow the ‘Cuse defense to catch its collective breath.
3. Mitigate Minnesota’s Passing Game
Syracuse is usually good with turning an opponent’s offense one-dimensional. I looked back at Minny’s game against Iowa which resulted in a 13-10 loss and found something the Orange need to do. The Gophers held the ball for about 35 minutes, which they typically do as discussed. On top of that, PJ Fleck’s crew garnered over 300 yards on the ground. Plus, Minnesota turned it over one time and had four trips to the red zone.
So how the heck did they lose? Well the Gophers had 87 passing yards, did turn the ball over one, and were just 204 in the red zone. So, Syracuse needs to use its 3-3-5 defense to shrink the field and win inside the 20. The ‘Cuse’s red zone defense was good at times this year, not so much in others. The Orange have allowed 25 TDs on 41 trips inside its final stretch of yards.
Syracuse needs to let Minnesota do whatever the heck it wants across the other 80 yards of the field and just tighten up for the final 20. If SU can force the Gophers to kick field goals in this game, it allows itself to stay in the if the offense sputters. So, Nick Monroe and this defense needs to limit the aerial attack to basically a non-factor, poach at opportunities for takeaways, and bend but not break on its welcome mat.
If Syracuse can accomplish these three things then the Orange have an excellent shot at winning this game as a 10 point underdog. If not? Well it could get pretty ugly in the Bronx.