Meineke Bowl: Minnesota vs. Texas Tech

This is a battle between programs looking to ascend the food chain in their respective conferences. Jerry Kill is in his second season in the Twin Cities, rallying the program to its first bowl since 2009. The extra practices will help hasten the development of this rising team.

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The Red Raiders saw head coach Tommy Tuberville unceremoniously bolt for the Cincinnati job. Former Tech great Kliff Kingsbury as hired to take over, but the Red Raiders will be led by Chris Thomsen in the bowl. But this is a Texas Tech team that lost four its last five and forced just 10 turnovers.

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Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5), Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

Minnesota Leaders
Passing Yards: M. Shortell 853
Passing TDs: P. Nelson 6
Rushing Yards: D. Kirkwood 849
Rushing TDs: M. Gray 5
Receiving Yards: A. Barker 577
Receiving TDs: A. Barker 7
Interceptions: M. Carter 2

Top individual matchup: Minnesota QB Philip Nelson vs. Texas Tech secondary. The Red Raiders have the No. 1 pass defense in the Big 12 (195.8 ypg). That will make things difficult for Nelson, who took over in the second half of the season from MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell. Nelson has hit 68-of-136 passes for 735 yards with seven picks and six touchdowns. If the Gophers can’t pass, it will give little room for Donnell Kirkwood and the other Minnesota backs to run.

Top unit matchup: Texas Tech receivers vs. Minnesota secondary. The Gopher secondary was an area that made some strides, as players like Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire came on for what was a maligned unit. The Gophers allow just 178.5 passing yards, ranking 11th in the nation. Tech will look to throw to Eric Ward (75 catches) and Darrin Moore (81).

Texas Tech Leaders
Passing Yards: S. Doege 3934
Passing TDs: S. Doege 38
Rushing Yards: K. Williams 779
Rushing TDs: E. Stephens 5
Receiving Yards: E. Ward 974
Receiving TDs: D. Moore 13
Interceptions: C. Davis 3

Fast fact: This is a rematch of the 2006 Insight Bowl, which featured the biggest comeback in bowl annals. Minnesota blew a 31-point third quarter lead and lost 44-41 in overtime to Mike Leach and Texas Tech. Gopher coach Glen Mason was fired after the game.

Three reasons for optimism:

  1. Excitement. Some teams may not be pumped up about playing in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. But the Golden Gophers are. This will be the program’s first postseason trip since 2009, as it searches for its first bowl win since 2004.
  2. Pass defense. Minnesota’s is pretty good. In fact, it ranks No. 11 in the nation. That’s good, because the Gophers will face a Texas Tech offense that ranks No. 2 in the country in passing behind quarterback Seth Doege. D.L. Wilhite and Ra’Shede Hageman must get some pressure.
  3. Health. The Minnesota team didn’t have much depth to begin with, and injuries chipped away at it even more. But the time off figures to allow the Gophers to get healthy for this bowl. And that’s good.

Three reasons for worry:

  1. Where is the mojo? Minnesota started 4-0—and then went 2-6 down the stretch. And the offense really struggled in the back half of the season behind true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson. How bad was it in a season finale vs. Michigan State? Minnesota mustered only 96 yards in a 26-10 loss.
  2. Offense. Can the Gophers keep pace with Texas Tech if this turns into a shootout? Minnesota has just the No. 10 offense in the Big Ten (317.5 ypg). The passing offense is No. 9 (171.4 ypg) and the scoring is No. 9 (21.3 ppg). Minnesota scored a combined 41 points the last three games, as it missed top wideout A.J. Barker, who left the program. And Tech’s defense has improved. It was tied for 114th in the nation in total defense (485.6 yards) in 2011 but is 39th (367.3) and second in the Big 12 in 2012.
  3. The Red Raiders pass game is good. Really good. Tech quarterback Seth Doege is sixth in the nation in passing yards (3,934) and has 38 touchdown throws for a team that scored at least 20 points in every game in 2012.
About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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