Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE
A look at the Gophers season, what it means that they made a bowl game, and some thoughts on how they'll fare against Texas Tech.
Hey friends, it's your old pal JDMill here. You probably hadn't noticed that I've been scarce around OTE for a while. Due to an absolute barrage of unfriendly fire on my personal life this fall, I had to step away from the friendly confines of OTE (and the dozens of daily emails) to tend to more pressing matters.
For most of you, I'm probably not unlike the Gopher football program that I write about: a cute distraction, but easy to forget.
In any case, the Gophers have the distinct honor of kicking off the B1G bowl season on Friday night as they face Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (MCCBoT) at 9pm ET on ESPN. Gopher football games have been out of my life for just long enough that I'm excited for this one.
By rights the Gophers should probably being playing in something like the Pizza! Pizza! Bowl in Detroit, but because of OSU and PSU sanctions, the Gophers went from the B1G's 8th choice to 6th, meaning we are playing the BigXII's 6th choice team as well.
Nobody is complaining, mind you. Making it to a bowl game after two straight 3-win seasons in Minneapolis is a good situation no matter how you slice it.
What has been interesting in Gold Country to see how methodical the fan base has been about the Gophers making it to a bowl. Everyone is happy the team improved its record, and everyone is happy to make it to a bowl game, but the fan base, myself included, has almost been more excited for the program as a whole, being so young and inexperienced, to get the extra 15 practices.
Let's be clear. Nobody is planning to go sledding on Friday night instead of watching the MCCBoT. We'll be watching to see what Kill and his staff can do with a month to prepare for the high powered TTU offense... beers and bourbons in hand.
But the general feeling around the program is that while the Gophers doubled their win total and made the bowl game, they were fortunate to do so because the schedule and the opponents they played set up well. It's a great building block for the future of the program and the extra time that the coaching staff gets with the team is a huge benefit.
The future of the program is in good hands with Jerry Kill. If you ask someone from Minnesota about Jerry Kill and they start to talk about his seizures, I can absolutely assure you that that person isn't a true Gopher football fan and isn't paying very close attention. Coach Kill has epilepsy and a seizure disorder but his health is absolutely not impacting his job.
As for the future of the Gopher football program, I think this team is still 2 years away from being relevant in the division (whatever division it ends up being) discussion. The team will be a year older, but an early look at next year's schedule leads me to believe that the Gophers are likely going to be a 6 or 7 win team next season.
But let's get back to the game at hand: Bowling.
Heading into the MCCBoT as a 13 point dog is not unexpected for the Gophers. When the bowl games were being discussed, prior to being official, it looked like the Gophers were going to face TT, Baylor or WVU. None of these were exciting choices for the Gophers.
Things got a bit more interesting when Tommy Tubberville left Lubbock to head to... Cincinnati?!?! Apparently coaching upheaval, having an interim head coach (Chris Thomsen) for the bowl game, and already having the new head coach (Kliff Kingsbury) around aren't going to be a distraction for the Red Raiders at all... or at least that's what their fan base thinks. A comment from a piece at Viva The Matadors, SBNation's Texas Tech blog:
The worst thing
that could have happened to Minnesota was Tubs leaving. Our guys are gonna come out excited and fired up unlike we've seen in a long time.
The story of the game seems to be TT's 2nd ranked passing offense against Minnesota's 11th ranked passing defense. Most TT supporters are quick to point out that Minnesota's 179 yards/game given up came mostly against B1G opponents, a conference that doesn't pass the ball. The Gopher pass defense just isn't as good as their numbers suggest because their opponents don't pass.
But the same argument can, and should, be made about the TT passing offense.
Ranked 2nd in the country, of the 11 FBS teams faced this season, the Red Raiders faced 8 who were ranked 89th or worse in the country in pass defense. Five of those teams were ranked 112th or worse. FIVE!!!!! 45% of the Red Raiders FBS opponents ranked in the bottom 10% of the country for pass defense.
I understand that plenty of arguments are going to be made that teams didn't throw on the Gophers because it was so easy to run on them, and that's not untrue, but we could play the chicken or the egg game all day long.
The fact is that Texas Tech has not faced a pass defense as highly ranked as Minnesota's and when the Gophers faced teams that were more pass than run oriented (Purdue, MSU, Syracuse, W Michigan, UNLV), they held those teams well under their season averages for passing production.
I do think the Gophers hold the Tech passing offense in check, relatively speaking. I'll go ahead and say the Gophers hold the Red Raiders to under 275 yards passing. TT was only held under 275 yards passing once in 2012, and it happened to be against the best pass defense they faced: #26 ranked Oklahoma.
The question will be whether or not Tech can run enough to supplement the fact that the Gophers will hold them back through the air. In wins the Red Raiders rush for over 150 yards/game, in losses they rush for under 124 yards/game. (Baylor was a significant outlier where the Red Raiders rushed for 208 yards. In no other loss did they rush for more than 112 yards. TT rushed for 103 yards/game in their other 4 losses.) The Red Raiders had 5 games in 2012 where they were held to under 100 yards rushing.
All that is to say that I think the Gophers are going to win this game, right? Sure, I'll go out on a limb and say the Gophers *can* win a close one.
But whether or not the Gophers win or lose, I absolutely believe that this will be a closer game than the spread indicates because I believe the Gopher pass defense can slow down Texas Tech.