It wasn’t pretty but Syracuse gutted out a 21-17 win over Minnesota to win the Texas Bowl and run their bowl winning streak to three. Terrel Hunt’s 12-yard touchdown run with 1:14 left remaining in the game was the difference. The Orange finish with a winning record in head coach Scott Shafer’s first season.
Here are the Syracuse grades for the Texas Bowl:
Terrel Hunt played one of his best games of the season and was the difference maker on offense for the Orange. He did make some errant throws, but started the game out completing six of his first seven passes (the only incompletion was a touchdown drop by Brisly Estime). Where he made the biggest difference was in the running game. His ball fakes on the read option were perfect and the two touchdown runs were smart and athletic. He also protected the ball. He finished with 74 yards rushing and 188 yards passing to earn the Texas Bowl MVP. Hunt solidified his spot as the Orange quarterback going into spring practice in 2014.
RUNNING BACKS: B
In his last game in a Syracuse uniform, Jerome Smith did what he always does. He ran hard and piled up yardage. He finished with 74 yards rushing and a touchdown. It was good to see the return of Prince Tyson-Gulley who carried the ball four times. George Morris also gave Orange fans a look at what’s ahead with 8 carries for 34 yards.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B
A mixed bag for the Syracuse wide receivers. Estime had a rough start fumbling a ball and dropping a would-be touchdown pass, but he recovered and made some plays including the biggest one of the game. Ashton Broyld had an early 22-yard reception but was hurt on the play. It definitely affected his performance and even led to Coach Shafer getting into a confrontation with Broyld when he removed him from the game sensing he was struggling with his shoulder. Chris Clark was effective early and Jarrod West made some important catches in the second half.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
Syracuse didn’t have it’s best running game of the season averaging 4.5 yards per carry, but the offensive line held its own in the passing game as Hunt was only sacked once during the game. There were also three key false start penalties on the line and tight end that cost the Orange in key situations. Still, senior Macky MacPherson goes out a winner at Syracuse.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
Not many issues up front as the line did their job with two sacks and limiting the Gophers offense to 3.3 yards per carry. Jay Bromley was quiet for the most part, but when he did make some plays, they were big ones. Sean Welch also had a sack although he did have an offsides penalty in the first half that extended a Minnesota drive.
Again, the Minnesota running game was limited most of the day and the blitzing linebackers definitely made a difference. Marquis Spruill and Cameron Lynch each posted sacks although Spruill was penalized for roughing the passer early in the game. Lynch finished with a team-high 8 tackles and forced a fumble.
The Orange secondary was left with one-on-one coverages due to the blitzes and were lucky on several occasions. Minnesota was targeting Orange cornerback Brandon Reddish and he was exposed at times. The safeties also had some issues including a blown coverage on Minnesota’s second TD pass. If the Golden Gophers would have had a more accurate quarterback, the Orange would have been in trouble.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
This grade would have been a little lower because of the botched fake field goal and missed kick by Ryan Norton. The coverage teams also had some problems with downing punts inside the ten letting two opportunities get away from them to pin Minnesota deep in their territory. But it all came down to one play. Estime’s 70-yard punt return was the biggest play of the game and set up the winning touchdown.
The Orange never wavered from their game plan and it ended up getting them a victory. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough blitz calls, especially late in the game, were a difference maker. The offense protected Hunt and his mistakes were minimal. The fake field goal seemed like a strange call early in the game, but in the end Syracuse did almost everything right.
The fact that Syracuse finished above .500 was a nice accomplishment in Scott Shafer’s first season. The team might have found a quarterback for the future and with the exception of the Georgia Tech and Florida State games (the second can be excused), the Orange were very competitive. Still plenty of work to do, but a bowl win over a team that won 8 games is a nice way to end the season.