ORLANDO, Fla. -- Syracuse ended the season with a rush,
winning three of four behind a surging running game.
The Orange's potent ground attack faces a stiff challenge
Tuesday night against Georgia Tech's stingy defense in the Champs
Sports Bowl (ESPN, 7:45 ET).
Syracuse (6-5) is back in the postseason for the first time
since 2001 in large part because of tailbacks Walter Reyes and
Damien Rhodes and two-way player Diamond Ferri.
The Yellow Jackets have relied on a defense that is allowing
less than 300 yards per game and ranked 19th nationally against the
run. Georgia Tech (6-5) has held six opponents to 84 yards or less
on the ground, including holding Maryland to just 7 yards.
"They have a lot of guys who can go out there and tote the
rock," Georgia Tech free safety James Butler said. "We cannot
worry about who they have back there. We have to go out and play
fundamental football, and go out there to stop their run."
The running game got going just in time for the Orange. After
averaging just 147 yards on the ground during a 3-4 start, the
Orange ran for an average of 266 yards and 15 touchdowns in the
final four games to claim a share of the Big East title.
Reyes contributed first, with 244 yards and three scores in wins
over Connecticut and Pittsburgh. But he was hurt against the
Panthers, and sat out the rest of the regular season.
"It has been a long season for the seniors and personally for
me," said Reyes, expected to start against Georgia Tech. "I came
into the season with high expectations and then going down and
missing the last couple of games with torn muscles in my shoulder,
it was rough."
Rhodes filled in the next game, running for 200 yards and three
touchdowns, yet it wasn't enough as Syracuse was upset by Temple.
In the season finale against Boston College, Rhodes rushed for
107 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter before a leg injury
sidelined him. That's when coach Paul Pasqualoni called for Ferri,
a strong safety who had carried the ball just once since converting
from running back before the 2003 season.
In a performance that earned him the Big East's player of the
week on offense and defense, Ferri ran for 141 yards and two
touchdowns, and returned his team-leading fourth interception 44
yards for a third score. Syracuse won handily to share the league
crown with the Golden Eagles.
"A lot of teams play people both ways," Pasqualoni said. "But
to carry the ball 28 times in between the tackles and then play
every snap on defense, every nickel snap, every upfield snap, and
then to return punts, return kickoffs, cover punts; I'd say it's a
pretty extraordinary effort in college football."
If the chore of stopping that trio isn't enough for Yellow
Jackets coach Chan Gailey, the only coach to lead the program to
bowls in his first three seasons, he also must coax a consistent
effort out of promising but erratic quarterback Reggie Ball.
Ball's sophomore season was a disappointment after being
Atlantic Coast Conference's top rookie in 2003. He played well in
the first two games, completing 60 percent of his passes for 452
yards and six touchdowns and just one interception. But Ball's
numbers fell off down the stretch as he completed just 46 percent
of his passes and threw twice as many interceptions (16) as
Gailey has already told Ball he must win back his job during
"He has handled a lot of adversity pretty well," Gailey said.
"Hopefully, he is stronger for it. Hopefully, he is smarter for
it. Hopefully, he'll be a better player for it.