By KRISTIE RIEKEN
HOUSTON — Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege has seen this before.
The Red Raiders head into today’s Meineke Car Care Bowl against Minnesota after some serious upheaval with coach Tommy Tuberville abruptly leaving the team for the job in Cincinnati. Doege, a senior, remembers how the team came together for a win in the Alamo Bowl under an interim coach just days after coach Mike Leach was fired in the 2009 season.
The Red Raiders have hired Kliff Kingsbury to replace Tuberville, but interim coach Chris Thomsen will lead Texas Tech against the Golden Gophers.
“It’s settled now, and the young guys are excited. I remember … when I was younger how close we became as a football team,” Doege said. “Because with all the uncertainty, all the distractions, that’s what gets you through it.”
Thomsen, who coached the offensive line before becoming the interim head coach, said he believes his team has dealt with the changes and is ready to move forward.
“It’s really just business as usual for us,” Thomsen said. “The great thing about this team, the staple of this team, has been leadership all year, and we define leadership as guys who come out every single day focused and do it. If you can do that, you can lead as a freshman, sophomore, senior; it doesn’t matter. And that’s really the way they’ve approached it.”
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill doesn’t expect any drop off for the Red Raiders with Tuberville’s departure.
“I don’t think a whole lot is going to change with them,” Kill said. “Their system, offensively all the way back to coach Leach, has stayed the same, pretty much … they’ve got good football players, a good system, and I know they’ll be prepared to play.”
Texas Tech returns to a bowl game after seeing an 18-year bowl streak snapped with last season’s disappointing 5-7 finish. This is their fourth straight bowl game in Texas and their eighth since 2000. They’ve won their last two bowl games.
The Gophers are in a bowl for the first time since 2009 and looking for their first bowl win since 2004. They won six games this season, which is the same number of games they won in the previous two seasons combined.
“We’re in the building blocks of a program right now,” Kill said. “There’s no question that getting a bowl victory gives you great momentum going into the offseason. We won our last game of the year last year, and I feel like it took some momentum into the offseason. I think getting a bowl win would be certainly special for this group of kids, and certainly our seniors that have been through so much.”
A win on Friday would give Minnesota a winning record for the first time since going 7-6 in 2008.
To do that they’ll have to figure out how to slow down Texas Tech’s passing attack. Doege is fourth in the nation in yards passing with 3,934 and his 38 touchdown passes are second in the country. He needs just 66 yards to join Graham Harrell as the only players in school history to throw for 4,000 yards in consecutive seasons.
He’ll face a Minnesota defense that is 11th in the nation against the pass, allowing 178.5 yards a game. The Gophers have allowed just one 300-yard passer this season. Doege has nine games with more than 300 yards passing this season, and two for more than 400, including a season-high of 499 against West Virginia.
“I don’t think we have to do anything a lot different, and they’re not going to do anything different,” Kill said. “And I think that the style gives us an opportunity to try to keep their offense off the field, but we have to stay on the field. We didn’t do a real good job of that over the last two ball games.”
Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro, who was injured Oct. 13 and hasn’t played since because of internal bleeding, returned to practice this week and expects to play Friday. He said he wants to help the seniors go out with a victory.
“We have a lot of personal emotion going into this game,” he said. “Even though a lot of people think we’re distracted, I think this just made us a lot more focused on this game for these seniors.”
Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5), 4 p.m. HST (ESPN)
Line: Texas Tech by 13
Series record: Texas Tech leads 1-0.
What’s at stake: The Red Raiders return to a bowl after having their 18-season bowl streak snapped last year. They want to end the season on a high note after a tumultuous month in which coach Tommy Tuberville left for Cincinnati. Texas Tech hired Kliff Kingsbury, but will be led by interim coach Chris Thomsen in the bowl. Minnesota is in a bowl for the first time since 2009. The Gophers are looking for their first bowl win since 2004.
Key matchup: Texas Tech QB Seth Doege against Minnesota’s defense. Doege is fourth in the nation in yards passing with 3,934 and his 38 touchdown passes are second in the country. The Gophers rank 11th in the nation in pass defense, allowing 178.5 yards a game, and they’ve given up 300 yards passing only once this season.
Players to watch: Minnesota: RB Donnell Kirkwood. He leads the team with 849 yards rushing, and his three 100-yard rushing games this season are the most since Amir Pinnix had five in 2006. He had a season-high 152 yards rushing in a 17-3 win against Illinois.
Texas Tech: WRs Darrin Moore and Eric Ward. Moore has 81 catches for 948 yards and Ward has 75 catches for 974 yards. Moore has 13 touchdown receptions and Ward has 11. If the pair can both reach 1,000 yards receiving, they’ll be the first Tech duo to reach the mark since Danny Amendola and Michael Crabtree in 2007. Ward is averaging 124 yards receiving a game over the last five games. Moore is the third Red Raider in the last 12 years to have 10 touchdown receptions in Big 12 play.
Facts & figures: The only other meeting between these teams came when Tech beat Minnesota 44-41 in overtime in the 2006 Insight Bowl. The Red Raiders set an NCAA record for largest comeback in a FBS bowl game by rallying from a 31-point deficit for the win. … The Red Raiders have won their last two bowl games. … The Gophers beat Alabama 20-16 in the 2004 Music City Bowl for their last bowl win. … Tech is playing in its fourth straight bowl game in Texas and its eighth since 2000. … A victory would give Minnesota a winning record for the first time since going 7-6 in 2008. … The Red Raiders have scored in a school-record 193 straight games. … The Gophers have held three opponents to 10 points or less this season.