HOUSTON – Syracuse brought one of the nation’s toughest run defenses into Reliant Stadium for Friday’s Texas Bowl, a unit that was the only school in the FBS to not allow a 100-yard rusher this season.
The Orange was able to leave with that mark intact, although David Cobb did his best to break that run, as well as the Gophers’ bowl losing streak.
The Gophers running back finished with 91 yards on 18 carries, a 5.1-yard average that made his bid to crack the century mark more impressive considering he had only 34 yards on 10 carries in the first half of the 21-17 loss.
“It wasn’t about the yardage,” Cobb said. “If some of those plays didn’t get called back and we had executed, we probably could have had 200 [yards] on them. It’s nothing they did, but what we did. Hats off to them. They were fired up, flying around, they’re physical and they hit hard.”
After being held to 54 yards on 21 carries in the first 30 minutes, the Gophers were able to assert themselves on the ground after halftime, amassing 119 yards on 17 attempts.
“The biggest thing we did was try to mix it up a little bit and keep them off-balance with throwing and running that ball,” said Gophers coach Jerry Kill, who moved from the press box to the sideline for the second half. “I think we executed a little bit better up front. We made some good runs.”
Added quarterback Mitch Leidner: “We started getting in a pretty good groove. We started feeling confident. We were making plays. You’ve got to give the O-line credit.”
The Gophers had only one run of more than 10 yards in the first half, but they were able to record five such runs in the second half.
Cobb finished the season with 1,202 yards rushing, the most by a Gophers back since Amir Pinnix gained 1,272 yards in 2006. The numbers will look outstanding at some point for him, yet the sting of a close, late loss and the missed opportunity of a bowl victory was more immediate for him.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “You don’t want to go into the offseason like this. You don’t want to come here two years in a row and lose. We’ll swallow it, watch the film, take some weeks off and we’ll get right back to it.”
Kill is confident that Cobb, one of eight returning starters on offense, will be capable of being mentioned among the Big Ten’s top backs next fall.
“I’m very proud of him,” Kill said. “He’s got great vision and has a great future ahead of him. He continues to gain confidence, and we’re excited about that.”