2006 Insight Bowl - Texas Tech vs. Minnesota

Posted Dec 14, 2006

2006 Insight Bowl Preview ... Texas Tech vs. Minnesota

Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Minnesota (6-6)

Dec. 29th, 7:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network

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Can Minnesota run enough to hold off the Texas Tech passing game?

This isn't the Golden Gopher running attack of the past with Laurence Maroney, Marion Barber, and others, but it's effective enough to pound away for 151 yards a game. However, unlike other Gopher teams, the passing game is more than just an accessory forming the most balanced offense the team has had in years.

And then there's the defense.

Minnesota's defense has never been confused with a brick wall, and this year, things have gone from bad to downright ugly finishing 112th in the nation in total defense and 115th in pass defense allowing 254 yards per game.

National Rankings
Minnesota Texas Tech
Total Offense
40th  368.58 ypg 7th  439.5 ypg
Total Defense
112nd  416.25 ypg 49th  323.08 ypg
Scoring Offense
36th  27.92 ppg 16th  31.5 ppg
Scoring Defense
73rd  24.50 ppg 68th  23.75 ppg
Run Offense
45th  151 ypg 113th  76.33 ypg
Run Defense
95th  162.75 ypg 76th  147.42 ypg
Pass Offense
44th  217.58 ypg 3rd  363.17 ypg
Pass Defense
115th  253.5 ypg 25th  175.67 ypg
Turnover Margin
1st  1.33 48th  0.17
at Kent State W 44-0
at California L 42-17
W 62-0
at Purdue L 27-21
Michigan L 28-27 OT
Penn St
L 28-27 OT
at Wisc. L 48-12
N Dakota St W 10-9
at Ohio State L 44-0
W 63-26
at Mich St W 31-18
Iowa W 34-24
Texas Tech
SMU W 45-3
at UTEP W 38-35 OT
at TCU L 12-3
SE La  W 62-0
at Te A&M
W 31-27
Missouri L 38-21
at Colorado L 30-6
at Iowa St W 42-36
L 35-31
Baylor W 55-21
at Okla L 34-24
Okla St W 30-24
Position Ratings
relative to each other
M 5 highest
1 lowest
4 Quarterbacks 4
4 RBs 3
3 Receivers 4.5
4 O Line 4
3 D Line 3.5
2.5 Linebackers 3.5
2 Secondary 3.5
3 Spec Teams 4
4 Coaching 5

This just in: Texas Tech still throws the ball.

The Red Raiders are about a year away from getting next-level statistics from the passing game with Graham Harrell still getting his feet wet. The attack is at its best with a quarterback who's been around the system for several years, and it took a full season for Harrell to start to find his consistency. Even with the problems, like disasters against Colorado and TCU, Tech is still third in the nation averaging 363 passing yards per game.

Good enough to beat Texas A&M in a thriller, and explosive enough to stay with Texas and Oklahoma, Texas Tech has the ability to get hot and blow up a team like Minnesota to pieces. On the flip side, it lost to Colorado by putting up just 276 yards and was held to 204 passing yards by TCU.

Even if Minnesota gets blasted, just getting to Tempe was a major achievement needing to win its final three games of the season beating Indiana, Michigan State and Iowa, to get a 13th game, and possibly save head coach Glen Mason's job. This is a relatively young team that was due for a down year, and it was.

Basically, the Gophers pulled off a little bit of an upset beating Iowa, got screwed on a bad pass interference call in an overtime loss to Penn State, and beat everyone it was supposed to. Outside of a tough battle in a 27-21 road loss to Purdue, the Gophers basically lost to everyone they were supposed to. Texas Tech is a team they're supposed to lose to.

Will this be one of those strange bowl games that defies the logic? Under Mason, Minnesota is normally a solid bowl team, despite a loss to Virginia in last year's Music City Bowl, while Texas Tech hasn't always been great when it's supposed to be. Either way, this will be a decent notch in the belt of one of the Big conferences.

Players to watch: Texas Tech has several weapons to get the ball, but it lost a good one with Jarrett Hicks, who's had problems all season long, likely out due to academic issues. That means Joel Filani and Robert Johnson will be that much more involved, and they can pick up the slack. They're both big, they're both tough, and they're both experienced with NFL caliber skills with each catching 80 passes this year and combining for 1,912 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Minnesota has a bit of a passing game of its own with QB Bryan Cupito the barometer to the team's success. When he's off, Minnesota usually goes into the tank since the opposing safeties are used to to stop the ground game. He doesn't have a next-level arm, but he throws a nice deep ball and can get hot in stretches. Of his eight interceptions, seven were thrown in losses and got sharp over the final three games throwing eight touchdown passes with only one pick against Iowa.

The Gopher ground game has mostly been Amir Pinnix, a limited back who's nothing special compared to past Minnesota runners, but ran for 1,093 yards and 14 touchdowns saving some of his best games for last. With enough of a burst to get to the outside, and decent power up the middle, he'll get the ball at least 20 times in an attempt to control the clock to keep the Red Raider offense off the field.

Of course, all eyes will be on Graham Harrell, a sophomore who became a better decision maker as the season went on. Almost benched on a permanent basis after throwing five interceptions in a two-game losing stretch against Missouri and Colorado, he rebounded to throw 17 touchdown passes and three interceptions over the final five games of the year. He can dink and dunk as much as Minnesota will let him, and he can push the ball deep when it's there. The key will be to not forced anything; he won't have to against this secondary.

Minnesota will win if... it's secondary makes its share of plays. Oh sure, Harrell is a mortal lock to throw for 400 yards, Minnesota allowed 1,040 through the air over its final three games, but it also picked off nine passes. Getting top corner Trumaine Banks (most likely) after he suffered a broken arm will be a huge boost, but the Gophers will need a pass rush, good tackling from the back seven on the short passes, and can't let Harrell get into a groove. Minnesota leads the nation in turnover margin, and it needs to be at least plus-two to stay in this.

Texas Tech will win if... it keeps the Gophers to under 120 rushing yards. Over 120 and Minnesota is 5-1 only losing in the strange game against Purdue. Under 120 yards, and Minnesota is 1-5 with the one win coming against D-IAA North Dakota State. The Red Raider run defense has been generally solid, but outside of wins over Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, which required Tech to come through by the skin of its teeth, there are big problems when teams start to move the ball on the ground.

What will happen: Minnesota will play better than expected and will have a defensive wrinkle or two that'll keep things close for a half, then Tech head coach Mike Leach will work the kinks out, Harrell will get going, and things will start to get away from the Gophers. Expect plenty of points from both sides in an entertaining game with around 800 yards of total offense between the two. This will be the type of game that'll get people talking about Harrell in the off-season.

Line: Texas Tech -7 ... CFN Prediction:
Texas Tech 38 ... Minnesota 27

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Insight Bowl Player Profile: Minnesota DE Willie VanDeSteeg, team bowl history and more