- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Look out for Minnesota. The Gophers are 4-0 for the first time since 2008 after an impressive 17-10 victory over Syracuse at home. Here's how it happened:
It was over when: Minnesota recovered Syracuse's onsides kick attempt with 45 seconds left, allowing the Gophers to get into the victory formation. A last-chance Orange rally resulted in a touchdown pass in the final minute, but it wasn't enough.
Game ball goes to: The Gophers' D. Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib came into the game as the second-leading passer in the FBS. Minnesota limited him to just 228 yards through the air, and much of that came on the final drive. Credit every level of the defense for the effort, as the front four led by D.L. Wilhite and Ra'Shede Hageman got tremendous pressure, and the secondary stayed glued to standout Orange receiver Marcus Sales, whose only two catches of the game came in the final two minutes. Aaron Hill also intercepted Nassib's pass at the Minnesota 3-yard line early in the third quarter.
Stat of the game: Turnover margin. Syracuse turned the ball over four times, including a pair of interceptions, while Minnesota didn't cough it up a single time. That was the difference in a game where the Orange outgained the Gophers 350-337.
How the game was won: This one wasn't actually as close as the final score indicates. Minnesota missed a pair of field goals after driving into the Syracuse red zone and had a touchdown pass wiped out by a penalty. But the Gophers didn't pay for leaving all those points on the field because of their outstanding defensive effort. Quarterback Max Shortell, starting for the injured MarQueis Gray, managed the game well, completing 16 of 30 passes for 231 yards, and Donnell Kirkwood ran for 99 yards and both Minnesota touchdowns.
What Minnesota learned: This was the best team the Gophers have played this season, and they won again. Minnesota already has more wins than it did a year ago and has won five straight dating back to last season. Jerry Kill's team now looks like a good bet to make it to a bowl game, and it has learned how to win some close games. The Gophers are no longer an easy out in the Big Ten.
What Syracuse learned: It was another tough loss for the 1-3 Orange, who lost a heartbreaker to Northwestern and hung tough against USC. Syracuse needs to get more from its offense when the passing game isn't lights out; the rushing game accounted for 122 yards but only 3.7 yards per carry. The Orange must get off the mat and get ready for Big East play on Friday against Pitt at home.
4dBrian Bennett and Josh Moyer