BOWL PREVIEW: Pasqualoni cool despite pressure

Not only did coach Paul Pasqualoni lead Syracuse to its first postseason appearance since 2001, but he also kept his players focused as speculation regarding his demise ran rampant.

Pasqualoni will return for his 15th campaign in 2005, even though he remained on the coaching hot seat for most of the season. The Orange finished 6-5 and will face Georgia Tech (6-5) in the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 21.

"We're going to take this opportunity and run," Pasqualoni told the Syracuse Post-Standard. "We've made some strides, I think, in getting back some of the respect we've enjoyed over the years this season."

With Pasqualoni's job secure for the time being, concern now turns to the health of senior tailback Walter Reyes. Syracuse was able to upset Boston College on Nov. 27 without Reyes in the lineup but figures to be a much stronger team with him running the football.

Backup running back Damien Rhodes started for Reyes against Boston College, but sustained a knee injury in the first quarter and couldn't return. Pasqualoni then turned to strong safety Diamond Ferri, who managed 141 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

The Orange, however, hope no further personnel miracles are needed as both Reyes and Rhodes should be available for the Champs Sports Bowl.

NOTES, QUOTES

BEST ATTRIBUTE: Syracuse's ground attack has the potential to be one of the nation's best. TB Walter Reyes averaged 100 yards per game and managed seven touchdowns, while backup Damien Rhodes added 77.8 and 10 scores. The Orange rushing offense finished second in the Big East behind West Virginia in the regular season.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Though Reyes and Rhodes have fueled Syracuse's offense, QB Perry Patterson has struggled at times. Patterson's 112.1 pass efficiency rating is last in the Big East. He threw for 1,632 yards and six touchdowns in 11 appearances.

GAME OF THE YEAR: Syracuse 38, Pittsburgh 31 (Nov. 6) -- The Orange needed two overtimes to beat the Big East's BCS representative in the Carrier Dome. TB Damien Rhodes accounted for all 25 yards on Syracuse's game-winning drive and capped it with a 2-yard touchdown. Rhodes delivered 103 yards on the ground, while fellow tailback Walter Reyes added 123.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: TB Walter Reyes vs. the Georgia Tech run defense -- Reyes is strong, tough and productive -- when healthy. He ran for 856 yards, but missed the final two games of the season. Head coach Paul Pasqualoni believes Reyes should be ready to play against Tech.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Don't think they're not affected by all the press and all the negativity that went on around here. With all that went on, they came to practice every day ready to practice and ready to beat their next opponent. They never packed it in." -- Syracuse receivers coach Dennis Goldman to the Post-Standard, regarding his players' businesslike outlook while Paul Pasqualoni was on the hot seat.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BOWL AT A GLANCE: Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech, Champs Sports Bowl, Orlando, Dec. 21 -- Would be a nice launching pad into the 2005 season, which needs to be a big one for Orange coach Paul Pasqualoni.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: SS Diamond Ferri -- The senior turned in one the season's most impressive performances, while playing three positions. He rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns, returned an interception 44 yards for a score and made six tackles in a 43-17 win over Boston College on Nov. 27. He also returned punts.

QB Perry Patterson -- The sophomore has completed 147 of 255 passes for 1,632 yards and six touchdowns (against nine interceptions). Patterson is the question mark and must do a lot to prove he can lead this team into a high-intensity situation.

PRO POTENTIAL: TB Walter Reyes -- Syracuse's second-leading all-time rusher averaged 100.0 yards per game during the regular season. He delivered 856 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns.

ROSTER REPORT: TB Walter Reyes (shoulder) missed Syracuse's final two games, but figures to be ready for the Champs Sports Bowl. TB Damien Rhodes (knee) left the Boston College game (Nov. 27) in the first quarter and didn't return, but should also be available.

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