NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In the nick of time, Syracuse remembered how to win.
James Mungro rushed 12 times for 162 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns as Syracuse rallied for a 20-13 victory over Kentucky in the Music City Bowl.
It was the first victory since Nov. 6 for Syracuse (7-5), which ended the season by losing its last two games and four of five. Coach Paul Pasqualoni, who listened to fans calling for his job the past month, felt vindicated.
"It's so satisfying and very, very special," said Pasqualoni, who also had lost his previous two bowl games after starting 4-0 in postseason play.
It didn't look good early as Kentucky (6-6) built a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. But the Wildcats' All-American tight end, James Whalen, suffered a dislocated right elbow, and their offense stalled without him.
"All in all, we just persevered, and we just needed a win," Syracuse linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "The thrill of victory--we haven't had it in such a long time."
Syracuse still had trouble, even as Kentucky's offense struggled. Kentucky stopped two drives by blocking field-goal attempts and was headed for its first bowl victory since the 1984 Hall of Fame game when Marc Samuel's 35-yard field goal made the score 13-7 with 10:39 to play.
The Orangemen responded with their best drive of the game, going 77 yards in four plays capped by Mungro's 32-yard touchdown run up the middle, giving Syracuse a 14-13 lead.
After Will Allen intercepted Dusty Bonner's pass with 6:38 remaining, Mungro padded the lead when Kentucky, anxious to regain possession inside the last two minutes, allowed him to score on a 20-yard run with 1:42 to play.
Syracuse tried to make that strategy backfire by going for a two-point conversion and a nine-point lead, but the attempt failed.
That still left Kentucky's "Air Raid" offense with plenty of time, but Bonner's last-gasp pass fell incomplete at Syracuse's seven-yard line.
Coach Hal Mumme said losing Whalen, a former walk-on who set a major-college record for receptions by a tight end with 90, took the wind out of the Wildcats. Bonner wound up passing for 308 yards but no touchdowns after passing for 26 during the regular season.
"We had to adjust our thinking totally in some of the things we wanted to do because he was off to a terrific start," Mumme said of Whalen, who caught four passes for 79 yards. "He was going to have a great game."
Syracuse wound up with 404 yards compared to 365 for Kentucky.
Kentucky scored on its first two possessions and looked ready to rout the Orangemen, jumping to a 10-0 lead.
Whalen was injured at the end of a six-yard reception, however, and the Wildcats settled for Samuel's 22-yard field goal.
Pasqualoni started Troy Nunes at quarterback but occasionally went with tailback Dee Brown for running plays. The Orangemen stopped themselves with two fumbles, and Kentucky's Dennis Johnson blocked a 26-yard field-goal attempt by Nate Trout late in the second quarter.
Defense finally got Syracuse going. End Donald Dinkins dropped Anthony White for a two-yard loss on second and goal and blocked a 20-yard field goal two plays later.