TEAMS: Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten Conference) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5, 4-5 Big 12 Conference)
TIME: Friday Dec. 28, 9:00 PM EST
LAS VEGAS LINES: Texas Tech -13; Over/Under 55 points
Tonight is the first bowl game involving a Big Ten Team – the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers are in the Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl in Houston Texas. Their opponent, the Texas Tech Red Raiders and their high-flying offense led by quarterback Seth Doege.
Texas Tech will be lead by interim coach Chris Thomsen who takes over the reigns from the recently departed Tommy Tuberville who left earlier this month to assume the same duties with the Cincinnati Bearcats.
On the other side line Minnesota Golden Gopher head coach Jerry Kill has led a resurgence of a team that has not made a bowl game since 2009 and has not won one since it defeated Alabama in the 2004 Music City Bowl. In coach Kill’s two seasons at the helm of Minnesota, he has an overall record of 9-15, but his team has shown improvement from year 1 to year 2. Last year his team only managed three wins while doubling that mark this year. If the Gophers could cap off the 2012 year with a win over Texas Tech, the Gophers would finish over .500 for the first time since 2008.
Both teams enter having lost three of their last four including their last two games of the season. Texas Tech limps into the game having lost four of their last five games including their last two games. The Red Raiders started the season looking like they could be a surprise contender for the Big 12 title winning 6 of their first seven games including wins over #5 West Virginia and #23 TCU. Then the wheels seemed to fall off. The Red Raiders who boasted one of the top defenses in the country early on, started relinquishing points with great efficiency. In their last 5 games, of which they won only once, they gave up at least 31 points in every game. That type of defense will not get it done in a conference that led the nation in scoring offense. How will Texas Tech respond when they have to defend the speedy Donnell Kirkwood and MarQueis Gray.
The Gophers have lost three of their last four including their last two games. Like Texas Tech, Minnesota started of extremely hot winning their first four in a row with wins over UNLV and over Syracuse. And, like Texas Tech, Minnesota then began a stretch where they faltered a bit. Minnesota only posted a 2-6 conference record which was good for 5th in the Legend’s Division. One aspect of the Golden Gophers game that has been overlooked coming into the bowl game is their pass defense. The Gophers ranked 4th in the Big Ten and 11th nationally allowing only 178.5 yards passing per game. They will have their hands full trying to slow down a Texas Tech passing offense that 1st in the Big 12 and 2nd nationally throwing for more than 360 yards per game.
How Jerry Kill and the Gophers are able to handle the passing game of Texas Tech will go a long way in determining their success in Houston.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
For Texas Tech, who are trying to win 8 games for the first time since 2010, they will rely heavily upon the arm of senior quarterback Seth Doege. Doege sits 66 yards shy of passing for 4000 yards for the second consecutive season. To go along with his nearly 4000 yards, he has also thrown for 38 TDs and only 14 INTs. What may be even more impressive for Doege is his 70.4% completion percentage having thrown 496 times this season. In fact, his completion percentage ranks 3rd nationally and his TDs rank 2nd in the nation.
More than likely you will be seeing Doege on Sundays in the near future. He has a strong, accurate arm, and he makes sound decisions. The one knock against Seth is his height. He is only 6-1 and some teams may be hesitant to take a chance on him and his ability to see over the line. If he does get a chance, son;t be surprised if he sticks in the NFL for years to come.
Minnesota scat back / wide receiver / quarterback MarQueis Gray is one of the best in the Big Ten. He has the ability to turn the momentum in a single play. Gray was the Gophers “Mr Everything” as he started the year at quarterback throwing for 464 yards and 5 TDs. He was hurt against Western Michigan and sat out the next two games. When he returned, he was moved to WR/RB. As a running back, Gray posted 331 yards and 5 TDs, and as a wide receiver he hauled in 12 passes for 121 yards. While his numbers may not be eye-popping, the ability of the defense to gameplan for him is difficult since you never know where he is going to line up.
The Red Raiders possess two of the most prolific wide receivers in the country. Eric Ward and Darrin Moore have combined for 156 receptions for 1922 yards and 24 TDs. Each ranks in the top-26 nationally in receptions and in the top-11 in TD receptions. Ward and Moore will be Seth Doege’s primary targets, but Texas Tech will also throw to Jace Amaro, Tyson Williams, and Jakeem Grant. Each has made over 23 receptions on the year.
On the ground, Minnesota was paced by Donnell Kirkwood. The sophomore wet off for 849 yards on 199 carries and 5 TDs. Kirkwood posted 3 100-yard games with a high if 152 yards against Illinois.
Many, including those in Las Vegas seem to be heavily favoring Texas Tech. And, while on paper the Red Raiders seem to have the more potent offense, the Gophers have one of the best passing defenses in the country. That defense is going to have to come up large if the Gophers are going to have a chance of pulling off the upset.
Look for Minnesota to do what they can to control the time of possession and limit how many time Texas Tech gets their hands on the ball. Minnesota will try and establish the run game with Kirkwood and Gray while mixing in play-action passes with freshman QB Philip Nelson. If Minnesota can have success on the ground, then Minnesota will have a chance, but if they are forced to rely on the true freshman and his arm, Minnesota could be in for a long evening.
For the Red Raiders, look for them to continue the mantra: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Meaning, Texas Tech is going to sling the ball all over the joint. While Texas Tech does possess a running back, Kenny Williams who went for 779 yards and 5 scores, he is merely a change of pace rather than the primary option. Seth Doege and the passing game is the primary offensive weapon for Texas Tech. If Minnesota cannot slow down the passing game, this game could get out of hand early!
Look for Minnesota to to be in the ball game at the half. I think they will be able to stay within 2-scores by halftime. In the second half, Texas Tech and the pace of their offense will wear down the Gophers and their defensive line. The Minnesota rushing game will also begin to falter in the second half forcing them to go more to the pass which will play right into Texas Tech’s 39th ranked team defense. Look for Texas Tech to pull away as the second half unfolds. Minnesota will not be able to climb above .500 this season, but coach Jerry Kill has the Golden Gophers headed in the right direction.
Minnesota – 13
Texas Tech – 44