Syracuse (1-2) at Minnesota (3-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 22, 8:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: TCF Bank Stadium (50,805) -- Minneapolis, Minnesota. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: Syracuse 1-1, Minnesota 2-0. Away Record: Syracuse 0-0, Minnesota 1-0. Neutral Record: Syracuse 0-1, Minnesota 0-0. Conference Record: Syracuse 0-0, Minnesota 0-0. Series Record: Minnesota leads 2-1.
GAME NOTES: Fresh of their first victory of the season, the Syracuse Orange will try to make it two straight when they play their first true road game of the season against the Minnesota Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium.
Syracuse finally got in the win column after suffering a tough home loss to Northwestern (42-41) and then fading down the stretch against USC (42-29) at MetLife Stadium. The level of competition certainly took a drop in week three with the Orange taking on Stony Brook of the FCS. The Orange looked sluggish to start the game but turned it on to win 28-17.
Minnesota is off to its first 3-0 start since 2008 after a 28-23 win over Western Michigan last weekend. The three wins match the squad's entire win total from last season. The matchup with the Orange will be the third straight home game for Minnesota where the Gophers were 3-4 during the 2011 campaign. A win against Syracuse would be big for Minnesota, giving the squad four wins for the first time since 2009 and the first time under Jerry Kill.
This will mark the fourth meeting all-time between these two programs. Minnesota has won two of the first three, including a 23-20 win in the Carrier Dome in 2009.
After two games that had no shortage of offense, Syracuse kept up the pace against Stony Brook and despite scoring only 28 points, piled up 549 yards of total offense. On the season the Orange have been the most productive offense in the Big East, averaging 533.3 yards per game. Syracuse also leads the conference in first downs per game (29.0) and third down conversions (28).
At the center of the offensive renaissance has been quarterback Ryan Nassib. The senior has taken another step forward after a strong junior season and has thrown for 1,139 yards, while completing 66.8 percent of his passes this season. He is currently ranked second in the nation in passing yards and yards per game (379.7). Nassib looked good again against Stony Brook, completing 22- of-35 pass attempts for 335 yards and three scores.
Nassib's stellar season has coincided with the rise of wide receiver Marcus Sales, who missed all of last season due to suspension. The senior wideout has caught 25 passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns, all tops in the Big East. Sales had another good game against Stony Brook, catching five passes for 117 yards and a TD.
In the past few seasons Syracuse has relied more on the running game but that has taken a backseat in 2012. Ashton Broyld led the team with 61 rushing yards against Stony Brook and has been the primary back on a team that has 461 total yards on the ground this season.
What could end up being Syracuse's undoing this season is its defense. The Orange are currently ranked last in the Big East in points allowed per game (33.7) and second to last in yards allowed (364.3 pg). Though some perspective is needed when looking at those numbers considering the squad allowed 40-point totals in each of the first two games.
Still against Stony Brook the Orange surrendered 311 total yards and looked particularly weak against the run. The 217 yards the Seawolves compiled on the ground marked the second straight week Syracuse has allowed at least 200 yards rushing.
In the game Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis were tied for the team lead with eight tackles each, although Davis got in the back field more often with a pair of tackles for loss. Brandon Reddish and Jeremi Wilkes each grabbed interceptions in the game as well.
Against Western Michigan, Minnesota tallied 397 total yards of offense, making the Gophers narrowly miss posting 400 yards for the third straight game. The team also had a streak of three straight games in which it had rushed for 200 or more yards end with an 180-yard performance on the ground.
Even though they have been piling up yards this season Minnesota is still only fifth in the Big Ten in yards per game (429.0) and scoring (34.0 ppg).
The team will have to keep up that offensive pace without senior quarterback Marqueis Gray who suffered an ankle injury against Western Michigan and will be out 2-to-4 weeks. In his place, Max Shortell played well, completing 10- of-17 passes for 188 yards and three TDs.
Losing Gray will also hurt the running game as the senior was a major part of the Gophers' ground game. With his absence, Kill's play-calling will have to be altered. It also means Donnell Kirkwood, who had 120 yards on 23 carries against Western Michigan, will see an increase in touches.
A defense that is giving up 293.3 yards per game will have its hands full against Syracuse. The Golden Gophers may be up to the task though as against a similar pass-heavy attack against Western Michigan, Minnesota surrendered only 209 yards. However the Broncos pounded out 165 yards on the ground and ended with 374 total yards in the game which was a season-high allowed by Minnesota.
Derrick Wells and Mike Rallis each tied for the team lead with 10 tackles a piece in the game and Michael Carter snagged an interception. The Gophers will need to create more pressure to slow Nassib after having only a pair of sacks against Western Michigan.
This will be a real measuring stick for each of these teams. Minnesota will unfortunately be without its most important offensive weapon in Gray and will have to prove it can still pick up yards without him. Meanwhile, Syracuse will be seeing how well the squad's aerial assault travels. Ultimately losing Gray will prove to be too much for the Gophers to overcome.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Syracuse 32, Minnesota 26
09/19 10:43:43 ET