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SU football previes

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Scott Shafer is far from Ebenezer Scrooge.

While spending the holidays in Houston preparing for today’s Texas Bowl, the Syracuse University football coach made sure his players mixed in some fun activities and enjoyed the experience. But it was still “a working Christmas,” Shafer said, as the 6-6 Orange is focused on defeating Minnesota to capture its third bowl victory in four years.

The Golden Gophers, entering at 8-4 as four-point favorites, are chasing their first bowl win since 2004, and the program’s second nine-win season in 108 years.

Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Reliant Stadium, home to the NFL’s Houston Texans, and will be televised on ESPN.

“That’s what the bowl experience is supposed to be about, giving kids the chance to have some fun with all the work that they put in throughout the course of the year,” said Shafer, the first SU rookie head coach in a bowl game since Paul Pasqualoni in 1991.

“We’re here to win a game, we’re here to compete and leave it on the field, but you also enjoy the opportunity to experience the holidays together as our extended family with this team and enjoy that process as well,” Shafer added.

Today’s game isn’t likely to fill the casual viewer with holiday cheer.

Both the Orange and Golden Gophers reached a bowl game because of their physical, punishing style of play.

Both offenses like to pound the opposition with a power-run game and each rank in the top 40 nationally in rushing.

“We just have to come out and run the ball harder (than them). That’s it,” said SU running back Prince-Tyson Gulley, the Most Valuable Player of last year’s Pinstripe Bowl.

Minnesota — led by 1,000-yard rusher David Cobb — finished fourth in the Big Ten Conference with 201 rushing yards per game.

SU was fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference with an average of 194 yards per game behind a committee headed by Jerome Smith, who scored 12 touchdowns and is 120 yards shy of 1,000.

With each team’s passing game outside of the top 100 nationally, plenty of handoffs and hard hits can be expected.

“We both pride ourselves on great defense, not turning the ball over, playing physical and running the football,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “If I’m a fan, I’m coming out to watch because it will be a physical battle.” SU and Minnesota play a similar style of defense, too. Both like to play aggressive and mix in blitzes as often as possible. Minnesota finished second in the Big Ten and 17th nationally in red-zone defense.

SU is the only team in the nation that has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher and is 19th in the nation with 7.3 tackles for loss per game.

“We take pride in stopping the run to earn the right to rush the passer,” said SU senior defensive tackle Jay Bromley, one of four team-elected captains. “(Shafer) harps on that, just making sure we stop the run first, and we’re physical first and foremost.”

Between practices leading to today’s game, the SU players and coaches gathered for a Christmas dinner and went to see the movie “Anchorman 2.” as a team.

They also enjoyed the “Rodeo Bowl,” an event where the two teams squared off in seven mini-games designed to entertain the players and fans.

SU won six of the seven events that included a linemen dance competition, mascot lassoing, hay bale tossing and cow corralling, among others.

“When we’re together we have our fun, back at the hotel when we have our down time,” SU linebacker Dyshawn Davis said. “Where we had our meetings, and we come out to practice, you’re kind of locked in. That’s just kind of a natural instinct for a football player who is focused.

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