2006 Insight Bowl Preview

Dec. 22, 2006

Minnesota (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) vs. Texas Tech (7-5, 4-4 Big 12)
Tempe, Ariz. - Sun Devil Stadium
Friday, December 29, 2006 - 6:00 p.m. MST - NFL Network
Coaches: Minnesota - Glen Mason, Texas Tech - Mike Leach
Series Record: First Meeting
Minnesota bowl record: 5-6
Texas Tech bowl record: 8-20-1

Minnesota Website Minnesota Roster Minnesota Schedule

Minnesota Statistics

Texas Tech Website

Texas Tech Roster Texas Tech Schedule Texas Tech Statistics

Minnesota will make its school-record fifth straight bowl appearance when it clashes with Texas Tech for the first time in program history in the 2006 Insight Bowl on Friday, Dec. 29. The Gophers will try to use their end-of-the-season momentum to close out 2006 above .500 with a win over the Red Raiders. After getting shut out by top-ranked Ohio State, the Gophers rallied to close out the regular season with three straight victories.

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"It feels great. There were times in the middle of the year when I'm sure people were pretty down and didn't think we were very good, but you also have to remember we were playing some pretty good teams in the middle of the year," said senior quarterback Bryan Cupito. "We regrouped at the end of the year and finished the season strong, and we're really excited to be going to a bowl game."

The two teams are among the most high-powered offenses in the country - both averaged above 40 points in their wins - but feature drastically different attacks. The Gophers will look to their tried and true powerhouse running game while the Red Raiders' success is all-aerial, all-the time.

Minnesota on Offense:
The Gophers' are led by three-year starter Bryan Cupito at quarterback. The senior signal-caller ranks third in the Big Ten with an average of 213.0 yards per game. While starting under center this year, Cupito has amassed 2,556 yards and 19 touchdown passes with a consistent and efficient arm.

Cupito's top target is Logan Payne, who snagged 56 catches for 786 yards and eight scores. The senior wide receiver will have to make up for the loss of All-American Matt Spaeth, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. Spaeth, who won the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end, owns the school's all-time records for receptions (109) and yards (1,293).

Running back Amir Pinnix became the answer for one of the biggest questions facing Minnesota's offense at the beginning of the season. The Gophers' offensive staple had produced an unprecedented streak of two 1,000-yard rushers three previous seasons - a first in NCAA Division I-A history. With the departure of the Nos. 1 and 2 backs from 2005, Pinnix rose to the top of the depth chart and came through with 1,093 yards on 218 carries. Backing up Pinnix, the young combination of sophomore Alex Daniels and redshirt freshman Jay Thomas combined for more than 500 yards. The trio will look to keep the Gophers' trademark power running game going full-speed ahead to keep the play-option open for Cupito.

Texas Tech on Offense:
It's no secret that the Red Raiders' first plan of attack is up. The Texas Tech wide-open passing attack is led by sophomore Graham Harrell, the first non-senior quarterback for Texas Tech in five years. Harrell proved that on-the-job success trumped his lack of experience, becoming one of only three quarterbacks to throw for more than 4,000 yards this season while connecting on 66.9 percent of his passes. He also ranks second in the country with 35 touchdown passes and third with 342.5 yards per game.

The key to Harrell's success is being able to spread the ball around to a multi-talented receiving corps. His top target is senior wide receiver Joel Filani, who topped the Big 12 with 1,138 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Red Raiders have several other capable receiving threats, including Robert Johnson, Danny Amendola and Shannon Woods.

When it comes to Texas Tech's running game, however, the disparity is clear. Woods is the only consistent ground weapon. He rushed for 817 yards on 133 carries this season, but no other Red Raider has ran for more than 50 yards.

Minnesota on Defense:
The Gophers young defensive unit will face a tall task in controlling such an athletic passing game. Despite having a talented secondary, the Gophers pass defense has surrendered an average of more than 250 yards in the air per game.

The front seven is a formidable crew that should have little problem shutting down the Red Raiders lack luster ground game that averages 77.3 yards per outing. Mike Sherels leads the defense with 98 tackles, while three others have made more than 70 stops a piece. Sophomore defensive end William Van DeSteeg racked up 68 tackles along with a team-leading 13.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Another stops machine, Dom Barber snagged four of the team's 16 interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

"There is no secret about what [the Red Raiders] try to do and what they do very well," said Sherels. "It will definitely be a challenge for our defense and a challenge that will be very welcome, as it will help us prepare for next season. It's always good to see different types of teams, especially being a young defense, and it will definitely put a cap on our season and all of the things we've learned this year."

Texas Tech on Defense:
While the Red Raiders have been consistent against the ground game, allowing only 147.4 yards per contest, the defense has been susceptible to the second-half letdown. In the team's four losses, Texas Tech was out-scored 58-13 in the second half.

Junior Brock Stranton leads the team with 84 tackles. Four other Red Raiders have more than 60 tackles, including Joe Garcia (78) and Darcel McBath (70), and five others have made 40-plus stops. Keyunta Dawson has been the leading Red Raider for punishing collisions, and leads the team with 7.5 tackles for loss, including six sacks. A sophomore cornerback, McBath has led the Red Raider secondary with three interceptions.

Keys to the game:
Perhaps one of Minnesota's best assets is its ability to take care of the ball. The Gophers have given up only 13 turnovers while gaining 29, marking the nation's best turnover margin. If they can continue to run their steady and efficient offense without mistakes, the power running game will have no problem creating opportunities for Cupito.

The Gophers' young defense will be seeing a dynamically different offensive scheme than it has all year, but the unit will have to step up and execute on big plays against a dangerous Texas Tech offense while not letting the Red Raiders' dismal rushing game get away with any easy plays.