Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas Preview
Dec. 26, 2012
Friday, Dec. 28, 2012 • 9 p.m. ET • Houston, Texas • Reliant Stadium (71,054)
Minnesota returns to postseason play for the first time since the 2009 season. The Gophers travel to Houston, Texas, to take on Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Minnesota is making its 15th postseason appearance and has faced the Red Raiders once previously in the 2006 Insight Bowl, a 44-41 overtime victory for Texas Tech. The Gophers are the third conference team to appear in the bowl game since the Big Ten’s agreement began in 2010. They are 31-12-1 all-time against teams from the Big 12 and have not played a contest in the state of Texas since posting a 31-30 win over Oregon in the 2003 Sun Bowl in El Paso. The Gophers are 5-9 all-time in bowl games, with their most recent being a 14-13 loss to Iowa State on Dec. 31 in the 2009 Insight Bowl. Minnesota’s last bowl win was a 20-16 victory against Alabama on Dec. 31 in the 2004 Music City Bowl.
Texas Tech is making its 35th bowl appearance and its third in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The Red Raiders played in the inaugural game in 2000 (then named the galleryfurniture.com Bowl) at the Astrodome and again in 2003 (then named the EV1.net Houston Bowl) at Reliant Stadium. Texas Tech’s last appearance resulted in a 38-14 win over Navy on Dec. 30, 2003. TTU, which will be playing in its fourth consecutive bowl game inside the state of Texas and its eighth since 2000, has won its last two bowl games as the Red Raiders defeated Northwestern 45-38 in the 2010 TicketCity Bowl and Michigan State 41-31 in the 2009 Valero Alamo Bowl.
This year’s bowl game will already have a different flare for the Red Raiders as head coach Tommy Tubberville bolted for Cincinnati, leaving the Red Raiders with an interim head coach in the bowl game for the second time since 2009. Texas Tech, which owns an all-time bowl record of 12-22, will be guided on the sidelines by Chris Thomasen, although the Red Raiders recently made headlines as they announced the hiring of former TTU quarterback Kliff Kingsbury as their new head coach.
The Minnesota offense finished the regular season ranked eighth in the Big Ten in rushing (146.1), ninth in scoring (21.3) and passing (171.4), and 10th in total yards (317.5). The Gophers spent the season looking for the right fit under center as they are one of just eight schools to have started three different quarterbacks in 2012. MarQueis Gray, Max Shortell and Philip Nelson all have starts to their credit, but it seems as if Nelson, a true freshman, has been the answer for the Maroon and Gold. Nelson has started the last six games, passing for 735 yards and six touchdowns while guiding the Gophers to a 2-4 record during that span. The Gophers have been spreading the ball around this season, as a school-record 18 players have caught a pass, which are seven more than the team’s total from a year ago. Isaac Fruechte (19-256 yards, 2 TDs) and Derrick Engel (14-267 yards, 1 TD) have paced the Minnesota receiving corps this season. In the backfield, running back Donnell Kirkwood has rushed for 849 yards this year and eclipsed the 100-yard plateau on three occasions, including a season-high 152 yards at Illinois.
The Texas Tech defense ranked first in the Big 12 in defending the pass (195.8), second in total defense (367.2), sixth against the rush (171.4), and seventh in points allowed (31.8). Defensive coordinator Art Kaufman helped engineer one of the biggest turnarounds in college football this season. Last year, Texas Tech’s defensive unit finished 114th overall in the country and was a major reason why Texas Tech had its 18-year bowl eligibility streak come to an end. In 2012, TTU’s total defense mark ranked 39th in the country. While Kaufman has helped drawing up the schemes, it has been safety Cody Davis playing the starring role for the Red Raiders’ defensive unit. His 82 solo tackles lead the Big 12 and rank fourth nationally, and are the most for a TTU tackler since 2002. His total also makes him just the third Red Raider over the last 12 years to record at least 80 stops in four consecutive seasons. Along with his 91 total tackles this year, Davis has a team-leading three interceptions along with seven pass breakups and 10 pass deflections. Davis does have help though, as Kerry Hyder led the Big 12 with 10.5 tackles for a loss during league play – the most by a Red Raider since 2009.
Known for its annual aerial attack, Texas Tech did not disappoint the West Texas faithful this season, ranking second in the nation with 361.92 passing yards and 12th in total offense with 501.42 yards per game. The Red Raiders were also 16th in scoring at 37.73 points each time out. While the Red Raiders recently welcomed back one of their most successful QBs as their new head coach, Seth Doege has made plenty of headlines this year as well. The senior slinger ranks second in the nation with 38 touchdowns and fourth with 3,934 passing yards. He needs just 66 passing yards in the Meineke Car Care Bowl to become just the second quarterback in school history to pass for 4,000 yards in back-to-back years. Doege has also been touted for his accuracy, completing 69.0 percent of his passes over his career, which ranks him fifth all-time in Big 12 history. Texas Tech features 17 different receivers with multiple receptions and 11 receivers with 15 plus receptions. Junior Eric Ward leads the unit with 974 receiving yards and is second with 11 touchdowns, while Darrin Moore enters the bowl game with 948 yards and a team-high 13 touchdowns, which also ranks fourth nationally. Should both wideouts reach 1,000 yards on the year, it will mark a first for a Tech wide receiver duo since 2007. Moore has had three 100-yards performances over his last four games played. The Red Raiders also have an effective running game, as three players have rushed for more than 400 yards this year. The ground attack is led by Kenny Williams who has rushed for 779 yards and five touchdowns.
Defending the pass has been one of Minnesota’s top strengths this season. Over the course of the regular season, the Gophers rated fourth in the Big Ten in pass defense (178.5), which was also 11th nationally, fifth in total yards allowed (352.8), eighth in scoring (23.9) and rushing (174.2). Minnesota has allowed only one 300-yard passer this year and allowed 287 points after giving up 380 over 12 games last year. The Gophers have held three opponents to 10 points or less this season. The Maroon and Gold are 20th nationally in pass efficiency defense at 111.95, led by a strong secondary leader in Michael Carter. His 14 pass breakups, including a school-record six against Purdue, rank tied for fourth all-time on Minnesota’s single-season charts. The Gophers’ pass rush has also been impressive this year as 12 Minnesota players have contributed on a sack this year. Senior D.L. Wilhite led the way with 8.5 sacks on the season to give him 15.5 sacks for his career, good for sixth all-time in program history. Junior Ra'Shede Hageman is second with 5.0 sacks this year for a team that totaled 25 sacks, its highest amount since recording 34 in 2008.
The return game will be the primary focus in the special teams area for both squads. Eric Stephens Jr. of Texas Tech ranks eight all-time in Big 12 history in both kickoff returns (82) and kickoff return yards (1,979). Minnesota senior Troy Stoudermire is the Big Ten record holder in kickoff return yards with 3,504 and is just 14 yards shy of breaking Tyron Carrier’s NCAA record. Ironically enough, Carrier recorded 3,517 yards from 2008-11 at the University of Houston in the same city hosting this year’s Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.