Minnesota and Syracuse feature standout running backs in Mohamed Ibrahim and Sean Tucker but only one star will actually play in Yankee Stadium.
Ibrahim will attempt to complete his remarkable comeback from a ruptured Achilles on Thursday when his Golden Gophers make their first appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl against the Orange, who hope another running back can compensate for Tucker’s absence.
Last season, Ibrahim was injured in the opening game against Ohio State after rushing for 1,076 yards in seven games during the 2020 season. This year, he was the nation’s fourth-leading rusher with 1,594 yards and a finalist for the Doak Walker Award. His 19 rushing touchdowns were tied for second in the nation.
“I know what he’s going to bring,” Syracuse linebacker Marlowe Wax said. “He’s tough. … He has a different type of vision. He sees different holes, cutbacks. I know everybody is going to get to the ball, all 11, because we know he can break one any time. It’s going to be a great challenge.”
Minnesota (8-4) has won four of its past five games since an October lull. Ibrahim posted 10 100-yard games this season, including a 263-yard performance against Iowa, 178 against Northwestern and 202 against Colorado.
“He’s meant everything to the program, everything to me,” Minnesota offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca said. “He’s the best back I’ve ever coached and been around. I feel lucky to have been around him.
While Minnesota was ranked 11th nationally in rushing yards per game (218.2), its 185.9 passing yards per game were 114th as the Golden Gophers used three quarterbacks — Tanner Morgan, Athan Kaliakmanis and Cole Kramer. Morgan has not played since Nov. 5 against Nebraska when he sustained an upper-body injury.
As for Syracuse (7-5), Tucker will watch his teammates from the sidelines after declaring for the draft on Dec. 17. His 3,182 rushing yards were the third most in school history behind Walter Reyes (3,424) and Joe Morris (4,299).
This season Tucker’s 1,060 rushing yards were third in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and he had 11 of his 27 career rushing TDs to help Syracuse reach its first bowl game since 2018.
Without Tucker, Syracuse’s top rushers were quarterback Garrett Shrader (406 yards) and LeQuint Allen, who gained 112 of his 180 yards against Wagner on Oct. 1.
The Orange face a Minnesota defense that allowed the second-fewest points (13.3) in the Big Ten and ranked 15th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (105.8).
“They’re a really good defense,” Syracuse offensive coordinator Jason Beck said. “Their 4-2-5 structure, really aggressive, really physical. They have really good players. It’s going to be a great matchup for us to be able to put our guys in successful situations, to be able to move the ball and score points.
The Orange won their first six games and were ranked No. 14 before a five-game losing streak but cemented their bowl appearance by scoring 26 straight points in a 32-23 win at Boston College on Nov. 26.
Minnesota has won three of five all-time meetings with Syracuse, who won the most recent tilt 21-17 in the 2013 Texas Bowl.
–Field Level Media