Houston, TX (Sports Network) - The Meineke Car Care Bowl will consist of two
programs who have never before played each another, as the Minnesota Golden
Gophers and the Texas Tech Red Raiders are set to square off on Friday, Dec.
28 at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Minnesota's 2012 campaign got off to a fast start, as the team posted wins in
each of its first four games, but things took a turn for the worse once it
entered Big Ten Conference play. The Gophers won just two of their eight
league bouts, defeating Purdue at home (44-28) and Illinois on the road
(17-3). Their season ended on a sour note, losing back-to-back games against
Nebraska (38-14) and Michigan State (26-10), but at 6-6 they qualified for a
bowl game after a two-year absence from postseason play.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for our team to get better and a great
accomplishment for our senior class," Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said.
"We have 13 players from Texas and I know they will be excited to play in
their home state. Texas Tech is a great team and we will have our hands full.
However, I know our team will be ready to play and will do their best to
represent both the university and the state of Minnesota."
Senior wideout and quarterback MarQuies Gray was one of just seven Gophers who
played in the 2009 Insight Bowl, and he is proud that his last game will be in
another bowl game.
"Our goal all year was to qualify for a bowl game," Gray said. "It's a good
feeling to know we accomplished one of our goals, (but) we are not satisfied.
We will continue to work hard and will do our best to try and win this bowl
game for Minnesota."
Much like Minnesota, Texas Tech also started the year red-hot, winning six of
its first seven games, highlighted by impressive Big 12 Conference wins over
Iowa State (24-13), West Virginia (49-14) and TCU (56-53, 3OT). The Red
Raiders' success in the first half allowed it to rise to No. 14 in the
national rankings, but they finished the season poorly, suffering losses in
four of their last five games, including a 52-45 overtime defeat against
Baylor in the regular-season finale.
Despite the Red Raiders being bowl eligible for the 19th time in the last 20
seasons, coach Tommy Tuberville decided to leave the shool to become the new
head coach at Cincinnati. Texas Tech wasted little time in bringing one its
own back to the fold, as Kliff Kingsbury was named the 15th head coach in
school history after serving as offensive coordinator at Texas A&M where he
mentored Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Kingsbury is the second-leading passer
in Texas Tech history.
In this game however, the Red Raiders will be led by interim head coach Chris
Thomsen. Tech's offensive line coach under Tuberbville, Thomsen spoke about
the opportunity to lead the team into battle against Minnesota.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity to lead our team into the bowl game. I
know our kids are excited about the opportunity to play another game and to
get the opportunity to compete. We're excited, we've got a group of coaches
and players, a great group of senior leaders that we are excited about and
they are looking forward to finishing the season the right way."
Offensively, Minnesota has been stuck in neutral for most of the season, as it
has been stifled by hard-nosed Big Ten defensive units for just 21.3 ppg on
The biggest reason for the struggles has been a lack of continuity under
center, as neither Philip Nelson (.500 completion percentage, 735 yards, 6
TDs, 7 INTs) nor Max Shortell (.560, 853 yards, 6 TDs, 5 INTs) has established
himself as a reliable option. Gray has also seen snaps, and he has arguably
been the team's most effective passer (.589, 464 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs).
A struggling passing attack has hindered the receiving corps, but A.J. Barker
has still managed to put together a solid campaign, leading the team in
catches (30), yards (577), and touchdowns (7).
Almost by default, running back Donnell Kirkwood has been the team's most
reliable offensive performer, as he has gained 849 rushing yards and scored 5
Luckily for the Gophers, they are saved by an impressive defensive unit that
allows fewer than 24 ppg.
Five different players have recorded two interceptions, including Michael
Carter, who led the team with 16 passes defended. D.L. Wilhite is one of the
best pass-rushers in the Big Ten with 8.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss, and
Troy Stoudermire has a team-high 78 tackles.
While Minnesota struggles to put points on the board, Texas Tech lit up at
will this season, ranking 12th in the nation in total offense (501.4 ypg) and
18th in scoring (37.8 ppg).
Texas Tech has a long line of quarterbacks that have been successful in its
pass-heavy system, including of course its new head coach, and Seth Doege is
no exception. He's completed better than 70 percent of his passes while
ranking sixth in the nation in yards (3,934) and second and in touchdowns
Doege has the good fortune of throwing to one of the best receiving duos in
the country, as Darrin Moore (81 receptions, 948 yards) and Eric Ward (75
receptions, 974 yards) both narrowly missed the century mark and combined to
catch 24 touchdowns.
While the rushing attack played second fiddle to the aerial assault, that
doesn't mean the Red Raiders weren't effective on the ground. Kenny Williams
(779 yards, 5 TDs), SaDale Foster (440 yards, 3 TDs), and Eric Stephens (414
yards, 5 TDs) all averaged at least 4.9 ypc.
Texas Tech's defense started the season as one of the nation's best, as it
allowed 14 points or fewer in each of its first five wins, but when the unit
isn't clicking, the results have been terrible, as it has given up 41 points
or more on six occasions. Part of the reasons for its struggles has been an
extreme lack of takeaways, as it has caused just nine turnovers in 12 games.
Cody Davis is both the team leader in tackles (91) and interceptions (3),
while Kerry Hyder makes plenty of plays behind the line of scrimmage with 13.5
tackles for loss and 5 sacks.
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