No two ways around this one, if you're a Big Ten fan you're rooting for all the teams in bowl season and our first chance came last night as Minnesota took on Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Texas Bowl (even us Wisco fans have been known to cheer for the Gophs this time of year.... shhh). You could argue it's going to be hard for any Big Ten team to top this one, even in victory.
Minnesota wound up losing 34-31, but it's how they lost that made this game special. Minnesota was up 31-24 on a TD with just over 13 minutes left. It was all about missed opportunities for them from there on out as they managed to allow the Red Raiders to score on back-to-back possessions with just 1:10 left in the game. The final nail in the coffin of the choke job came as the Red Raiders hit a 28 yard Field Goal as time expired to win it.
There was a lot of good and bad in this one on all levels, but what can we take away from the bowl game and what can we say went wrong?
3 Thumbs Up
- If you're a Gophers fan you have to like what you saw from your secondary on Friday night. The group went up against one of the highest flying teams in the country and more than held their own. They forced Seth Doege into two interceptions and he only had 271 yards passing
- Derrick Engel: With the Gophers missing their top two receiving options to either transfer or suspension someone needed to step up in the passing game and that man was Engel who had 4 of the 8 catches on the day for the Gophers. He made those 4 catches count as he went for 108 yards, averaging 27 yards a catch and a long of 40 yards.
- Minnesota had a good enough running game to make the Red Raiders worry. Donnell Kirkwood led the team with just 77 yards, however he was part of a trio of runners that had over 59 yards each on the way to rushing for 222 yards as a team. Rodrick Williams, Jr. was 2nd with 60 yards and showed that moving forward he could be a weapon for this team over the next three years of his career. In his final game of action MarQueis Gray had 59 yards rushing to cap off a career that was all about doing what was needed for the UofM.
3 Thumbs Down
- 3rd and 49: Yep, you can thank Gophers center Zac Epping for that ridiculous stat. Look, it's great to play with a nasty streak and an edge, but you can't go over it and then continue to go over another one right after it. Epping really cost his team a lot of positive momentum and you could argue it cost the team points as well. That's never a good thing from an offensive lineman and an expected leader as well. It got completely ridiculous as the game continued to get ugly. A Texas Tech player would be ejected & Minnesota would have 7 penalties for 84 yards. If that wasn't bad enough for you then the Red Raiders were your cup of tea with 13 penalties for 135 yards on the night.
- Rushing D Where Were You? As great as the passing D was for Minny, we've got to give a big thumbs down to the rush defense who allowed Texas Tech to use that as a huge weapon to keep drives alive and allowed them to average 6 yards a carry. It's tough to win football games when the opponent can basically run at will when needed. Yes, some was do to the coverage schemes and such, but even when they knew it was coming they seemingly couldn't stop it.
- Empty Promises in Passing Game: MarQueis Gray's passing left a hell of a lot to be desired, for that matter so did Phillip Nelson's as they missed some big time open wide receivers and killed off promising drives with errant throws that just didn't need to happen. Half the time Nelson wasn't even under insane pressure or anything and it was clear he needs some more seasoning in order to be an effective starter from them in the future.
Final Thoughts: Minnesota wasn't expected to hang with, let alone be in prime position to beat, Texas Tech. Having said that there's no doubt this team will be disappointed in how they lost on Friday night. It's a great learning tool and experience for a younger football team and going into next season they now have an idea of what it really takes to be a winning program. It's clear that coach Jerry Kill is beginning to instill a culture of winning at the UofM and now it's about pushing over that final hurdle. If you asked any Gophers fan what their goal for this team was at the beginning of the season a bowl game would've been their goal and they met that expectation at the very least.