Syracuse was able to end its season on a high note after defeating Minnesota 21-17 in the Texas Bowl on Friday night.
Terrel Hunt led the way for the Orange with 188 passing yards to go with 74 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including a go-ahead 12-yard run with 1:14 remaining in the game.
Mitch Leidner took over for Philip Nelson at quarterback for the Gophers, but he was unable to lead his side to victory.
There was very little semblance of offense in the first half from either side as both teams struggled to move the ball down the field. Nate Mink of the Syracuse Post-Standard provided a solid recap of the scoreless first quarter:
Sloppy first quarter on both ends. Two fumbles. A big drop by Estime. Penalties. If Syracuse playing better but needs to clean it up.— Nate Mink (@MinkNate) December 27, 2013
Finally, Syracuse was able to get onto the scoreboard with a 1-yard touchdown run by Jerome Smith, capping an 11-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter.
Minnesota took a while to answer, but the team finally got onto the scoreboard with a field goal at the very end of the half to cut the lead to 7-3.
In an effort to motivate his team in the second half, Gophers coach Jerry Kill moved from the booth to the sidelines after intermission, according to ESPN Big Ten:
While the team once again came out flat, Kill's presence seemed to help down the stretch as Minnesota fought hard to keep the game close.
Syracuse was able to extend its lead to 14-3 in the third quarter on a drive that was almost all thanks to Hunt, as noted by CBS Sports:
Terrel Hunt picks up a big first down and a few plays later he finds the end zone. Syracuse is up 14-3 with 2:57 left in the third.— Eye on College FBall (@EyeOnCFB) December 28, 2013
The quarterback rushed for the first down on a 4th-and-8 to keep the offense on the field, and then he scored himself with another run.
However, the Gophers answered back on the first play of the fourth quarter when Leidner found tight end Maxx Williams in the end zone. Interestingly, this was the first touchdown for Minnesota in 13 quarters. Unfortunately, a missed two-point conversion kept the score 14-9.
After a quick three-and-out, Minnesota got the ball back and scored on a 55-yard play-action pass from Leidner to a wide-open Drew Wolitarsky. This time, the squad was able to convert the two-point conversion to go up 17-14.
It seemed like this would be enough to win, but Brisly Estime came through with a 70-yard punt return down to the Minnesota 14-yard line:
As noted by SportsCenter, this led to the go-ahead touchdown by Hunt with just over one minute left. The Syracuse defense then held on for the 21-17 win.
Terrel Hunt, QB, Syracuse: A+
The sophomore quarterback had arguably his best overall performance of the season to lead Syracuse to victory in his first career bowl game.
Not only was he extremely accurate with his passing, but he also picked up tough yards on the ground, including both touchdowns and a lot of first downs.
Although the young player has made plenty of mistakes during the season, he showed that his pure talent and athleticism could make him a star at this level.
Syracuse's Defensive Line: B+
Over the course of the season, Syracuse was the only team in the nation that did not allow a 100-yard rusher. The Orange kept this up while holding Minnesota to only 3.3 yards per carry.
Starting running back David Cobb got close with his 91 rushing yards, but he was unable to get over the century mark.
The defensive line did not allow much room for the opposing team to run, and the linebackers took care of the rest. This was truly a great team effort to shut down the Gophers rushing attack.
Mitch Leidner, QB, Minnesota: A
While the Gophers continued to switch between Leidner and Nelson early on, Leinder was the more impressive player in the game and took over late. The freshman not only found some openings in the secondary, but he was also able to make a number of big plays with his legs.
He finished with 206 passing yards and two touchdowns to go with 24 rushing yards.
After not getting a lot of playing time during the season, Leidner showed that he could be a legitimate option for the team a year from now.
David Cobb, RB, Minnesota: B
Considering Minnesota finished the regular season with the 116th pass offense in the nation, it is clear the offense relied on the production from Cobb. The junior running back had been excellent down the stretch with over 100 rushing yards in five of his last six games.
The problem is that he could not find any running room in the first half against the Orange, and when he did he was unable to make the first man miss. He provided a stronger effort in the second half and totaled 91 rushing yards to help keep his team in the game.
Although this was not his best effort, it was still a solid showing for the young player.
Minnesota will bring back a lot of young talent next season, starting with quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner. Head coach Jerry Kill will have his choice to begin the year, but either one could help the Gophers compete in the new West division.
Syracuse will hope to improve behind sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt, although the ACC Atlantic division might get even tougher with the addition of Louisville next season. With Florida State and Clemson already providing serious competition, another year of .500 football should be a goal.
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