NCF Nation: Car Care Bowl 2012



This Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas wasn't a pretty one. A fun first half gave way to a lackluster second half until the final minutes, when Texas Tech's offense shook awake and rallied for a 34-31 victory over Minnesota with a Ryan Bustin field goal in the final seconds.

Tempers boiled for much of the game, which is pretty rare in a contest between two teams with absolutely no history and few if any links among players on the rosters. Officials didn't do a great job of keeping the peace.

The Big 12 moved to 2-0 in bowl games, and the Big Ten fell to 0-1 with the loss in its postseason opener.

It was over when: Bustin busted a 28-yard field goal through the uprights to complete an unlikely comeback in the final minutes, much as Texas Tech did back in the 2006 Insight Bowl. This one was a whole lot less dramatic than the FBS bowl-record 31-point, second-half comeback of that postseason meeting with the Golden Gophers, but Seth Doege made it a ballgame when he hit Eric Ward on a short slant that turned into a 35-yard, game-tying score when the safety help went absent.

Game ball goes to: Red Raiders wide receiver Darrin Moore. There weren't a ton of truly standout performances, but Moore caught a game-high 11 balls for 84 yards.

Stat of the game: This game was chippy from start to finish. A few media members on hand reported that there was some simmering tension after a contentious rodeo contest earlier in the week (which is just as silly as it sounds) -- and it showed up on the field. Nine personal fouls (five for Texas Tech, four for Minnesota) were handed out, and at one point, Minnesota faced a third-and-49 because of personal fouls. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro was also ejected for throwing a punch. More on that later.

Stat of the game II: Texas Tech's interception on third down in the final minute to set up the game-winning score was its first forced turnover since Oct. 20. Before that, Texas Tech had been minus-12 in turnover margin in its previous five-plus games.

Unsung hero of the game: Cornerback Michael Carter, Minnesota. He picked off Doege twice and made five tackles to help Minnesota's defense pitch a shutout in the first 28 minutes and 50 seconds of the second half.

Second-guessing: Amaro's decision-making. Texas Tech's Jakeem Grant fumbled what was nearly a go-ahead touchdown out of bounds, but Amaro made it worse by punching a defender he had pinned on the ground. Even worse? He did so right in front of an official, who flagged him for a 15-yard penalty and forced Tech into a third-and-goal from the 16. The eventual result was a blocked field goal; Minnesota took a 31-24 lead with a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Amaro didn't help his case by clearly complaining on the sideline and leaving the field while signaling "Guns Up" to the fans.

What Texas Tech learned: New coach Kliff Kingsbury has his work cut out for him. Texas Tech's offense struggled in the second half and the team looked undisciplined for all 60 minutes. The Red Raiders didn't score in the second half until the final 70 seconds. Kingsbury is right when he says the program is far from broken, but it obviously needs to be broken of some bad habits developed down the stretch in 2012. It struggled to turn red zone opportunities into touchdowns, and silly penalties hurt Texas Tech all night. The Red Raiders were clearly the better team and showed it with the victory, which came despite a very poor performance and mistakes throughout. A few minutes of solid offense in the second half were enough to win this one, but it won't be enough to win many games in the Big 12 once Kingsbury takes over.

What Minnesota learned: Bowl games mean even more pain and another rough finish for the Golden Gophers, who lost their final three games of the season. Quarterback Philip Nelson showed a lot of promise for the future, but his late interception set up the Red Raiders' winning field goal. Minnesota has now lost five consecutive bowl games, and hasn't won one since the 2004 Music City Bowl.
Three keys for Minnesota in tonight's Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas game against Texas Tech:

1. Get creative offensively: The Gophers had major trouble finding the end zone for large parts of the season. Injuries at quarterback, receiver and on the offensive line kept the Minnesota offense stuck in neutral; it averaged just 13.3 points per game in every Big Ten game except an outlying 44-point outburst against Purdue. The month off has given time for those nicks and bruises to heal and should help senior quarterback/receiver MarQueis Gray be as effective as he was early in the season. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover needs to maximize ways to use the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Gray along with true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson and lead tailback Donnell Kirkwood. The Gophers are still limited at receiver, with A.J. Barker quitting and Andre McDonald suspended. Limegrover must be creative in finding ways to move the ball and somehow keep up with Texas Tech's wide-open offense.

2. Control the skies: Texas Tech had the No. 2 passing attack in the country, averaging 362 yards per game in the air this season. That's no surprise, given the recent history in Lubbock. The good news for Minnesota is that defending the pass is the Gophers' strength -- they had the No. 11 pass defense in the country this season. Cornerbacks Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire must turn in great games, along with safety Derrick Wells, against standout receivers Eric Ward and Darrin Moore. That won't be enough against a team likely to line up four and five wide receivers every snap, so defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman and D.L. Wilhite will have to get pressure on Seth Doege and find ways to disrupt his rhythm. At the very least, the Gophers must take a bend-but-don't-break attitude and force the Red Raiders to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns.

3. Do all the little things right: Let's be honest: Minnesota is a huge underdog in this game and would probably be playing a much easier opponent if Ohio State and Penn State were bowl eligible. It's a tough matchup for a team that doesn't score a whole lot in what is almost a road game. But the Gophers still have a chance against a Texas Tech squad that lost four of its final five and saw its head coach bolt for Cincinnati after the season. They just have very little margin for error. Special teams have to come up big. They can't afford many penalties. And they absolutely must win the turnover battle and keep the Red Raiders offense off the field as much as possible. They're going to need some luck and to play nearly a perfect game. The good news: Minnesota should be far more excited to be in this game than the Red Raiders.

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas keys

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
1:30
PM ET
Let's take a look at three keys for tonight's Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

1. Grab a turnover or two. Texas Tech's defense has to be very, very frustrated by now. The last time the Red Raiders forced a turnover was all the way back on Oct. 20. Since then, the Red Raiders are 1-4 with the only win coming at home in overtime against 1-11 Kansas. That stretch has sent Tech to minus-12 in turnover margin, which is seven takeaways below any team in the Big 12 and tied for 110th nationally. If Texas Tech can't crack the streak and force a turnover, this one will turn into a game quickly.

2. Force the tempo. It might be a little odd for Texas Tech without offensive coordinator Neal Brown in charge of things. Offensive line coach Chris Thomsen has taken over as interim coach and receivers coach Sonny Cumbie is stepping up to call the plays. There aren't a lot of teams in the Big Ten who run with the tempo that Texas Tech wants, but Cumbie's got to be quick on the trigger and keep the Tech offense rolling. Schematically, Minnesota can slow down the Red Raiders, but going with a lightning pace in Brown's absence will give the Golden Gophers problems.

3. Don't forget about Kenny Williams and Eric Stephens. Texas Tech didn't win the game, but its 208 rushing yards against Baylor was nearly enough to knock off the Bears and helped Tech put 45 points on the board. Minnesota ranks 77th nationally in rush defense, and though Tech loves to throw it around the yard, some balance would no doubt help the Red Raiders. Against Kansas and Oklahoma State, Tech averaged fewer than three yards a carry, but the team posted nearly seven yards a touch against Baylor. Williams, Stephens and SaDale Foster all average nearly five yards a touch and combined for more than 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns. Cumbie's not a very experienced playcaller, but he's got to keep those guys active, too.

Pregame: Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
1:00
PM ET
Minnesota (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten) vs. Texas Tech (7-5, 4-5 Big 12)

WHO TO WATCH: Texas Tech receivers Eric Ward and Darrin Moore. They are big targets in the red zone and caught 24 of quarterback Seth Doege's 38 touchdowns this season. Only two other teams have two receivers with double-digit touchdown catches. Tech's offense runs as Doege, Ward and Moore run. Additionally, tight end Jace Amaro has been cleared to play after missing the final six games of the season with a rib injury. He adds another dangerous asset to Texas Tech's offense, which ranked 12th nationally this year. West Virginia's Geno Smith is the only quarterback with more touchdown passes than Doege.

WHAT TO WATCH: Can Minnesota compete? The two-touchdown line is one of the largest of the bowl season, but the Golden Gophers will have an opportunity to log their best win of the season since knocking off 7-5 Syracuse back on Sept. 22. The Golden Gophers lost three of their final four games of the season -- all by at least 16 points -- but all three losses came to bowl teams. Also, how will both teams handle the loss of big contributors -- wide receiver A.J. Barker (transfer) for Minnesota and cornerback Cornelius Douglas (suspension) for Texas Tech?

WHY TO WATCH: You might find a piece of the answer to the eternal question of how important quarterback play is. Tech's Doege has had his share of struggles, but he has been the guy all season for the Red Raiders and racked up 3,934 passing yards and is 12th nationally in passer rating. Minnesota, meanwhile, has played musical chairs with its quarterbacks all season long and sophomore Max Shortell was frustrated enough to transfer. Philip Nelson will get the start for Minnesota, but will he stay there? Texas Tech fans also can tune in to see how much screen time new coach Kliff Kingsbury gets during the game.

PREDICTION: Texas Tech 34, Minnesota 17. I don't think the Gophers can keep up with the speed and efficiency of Texas Tech's offense. The Red Raiders will have some defensive issues of their own, too, even though Minnesota ranks 111th nationally in total offense. Too much Red Raiders, though. Amaro returns in a big way, and Moore is a pest in the red zone for the Golden Gophers.

Bonus picks! Here's what Big Ten colleagues Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett have to say by way of a prediction:

Brian Bennett: The Red Raiders have an interim coach, and Minnesota has had a month to heal the many injuries that ravaged its offense late in the season, both of which are positives for the Gophers. I think Matt Limegrover will find some creative ways to use MarQueis Gray. Still, Minnesota lacks the weapons to go up and down the field against a high-scoring Big 12 team. Michael Carter and the Gophers' secondary will make some plays but not enough to stop Texas Tech, which pulls away after a close first two-and-half quarters. ...Texas Tech 31, Minnesota 17.

Adam Rittenberg: The Gophers' defense is much improved in Year 2 under Tracy Claeys, but you need a decent amount of offensive firepower to keep pace with Texas Tech. Like you, my concern is the lack of playmakers surrounding Nelson and Gray. Both men will see time at quarterback and help the Gophers take a first-half lead, but a Minnesota turnover changes the game and Texas Tech strikes for two fourth-quarter passing touchdowns to win. ... Texas Tech 34, Minnesota 21

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