From 1999 to 2009, Minnesota played in nine bowl games. But after two coaching changes and no postseason berths since, Jerry Kill has his Golden Gophers back in the postseason. The Big Ten program hasn’t won a postseason game, however, since a 2004 Music City Bowl victory over Alabama.
Texas Tech went to 11 straight bowls, including four straight New Year’s Day games, before missing the postseason in 2011. Tommy Tuberville led the Red Raiders back to the postseason this fall in his third year in Lubbock. There’s only one issue, however, as Tuberville is now the head coach at Cincinnati.
Former Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury (1998-2002) takes over as the head coach after leading Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies offense this season. Offensive line coach Chris Thomsen will act as interim head coach for the bowl game.
These two programs have met only once before in history, but this won’t be the first time they have squared off in the postseason. In 2006, Graham Harrell threw for 445 yards in a 44-41 overtime victory by the Red Raiders in the Insight Bowl.
Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl: Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Date and Time: Fri., Dec. 28, 9 p.m.
Location: Reliant Stadium (Houston, Texas)
When the Minnesota Golden Gophers have the ball:
Team MVP MarQueis Gray can do a little bit of everything and this will be his final game in a Gophers uniform. He began the season as the starting quarterback before an ankle injury sidelined him for nearly three full games. He returned under center for one contest before Kill made the official switch to Philip Nelson. Gray is a tremendous athlete who passed for 464 yards, rushed for 331 and caught 12 passes for 121 yards as a receiver. He accounted for 10 touchdowns and will undoubtedly be used in a variety of ways in his Minnesota finale.
Nelson battled with Max Shortell for snaps at quarterback late in the year but neither was very effective. Nelson threw five interceptions in his last two starts of the season, while Shortell completed 5-of-11 passes for 62 yards and one pick. Shortell decided to transfer after the regular season, which leaves Nelson and Gray likely to share the quarterback duties in this game. Look for Red Raiders defensive end Kerry Hyder (13.5 TFL, 5 sacks) to tee off against the Minnesota O-Line.
Tailback Donnell Kirkwood will be asked to lead the offense, but the running game has to improve from how it ended the season. Minnesota totaled four yards rushing in the loss to Michigan State and 87 against Nebraska the week before that. Tech is allowing over 30 points and over 170 yards rushing per game, so Kirkwood has to give Kill balance if they want to win their first bowl in nearly a decade.
When the Texas Tech Red Raiders have the ball
Texas Tech’s offense should be the most productive unit on the field for either team. Quarterback Seth Doege is just 66 yards away from his second consecutive 4,000-yard season and his 38 passing touchdowns are second nationally to only Geno Smith’s 40. He will look to a pair of talented pass-catchers — Eric Ward and Darrin Moore — to stretch the field on offense. The duo combined for 156 catches, 1,922 and 24 touchdowns. Kill’s Gophers rank 11th nationally in pass defense (178.5 yards per game) and 20th in pass efficiency defense, so this game should feature strength on strength.
A young and talented defensive line is what gives the Gophers a chance to compete. D.L. Wilhite (11.0 TFL, 8.5 sacks) and Ra’Shede Hageman (6.5 TFL, 5 sacks) form a dynamic duo up front for Minnesota that Texas Tech will have to account for it wants to keep Doege upright.
Minnesota struggled mightily on offense all season but finished the season in even worse fashion. The Gophers scored no more than 17 points in any of its final four games and posted their two worst yardage outputs of the year in the last two games (177 yards and 96 yards). If Tech can neutralize the Minnesota front line, Doege should be able to find open receivers and the Red Raiders will approach its per game average of 37.8 points per game. This is why the Tech is a two-touchdown favorite.
Prediction: Texas Tech 31, Minnesota 14
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