Meineke Car Care Bowl 2012: Grading Minnesota and Texas Tech's Performances

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIIDecember 29, 2012

Meineke Car Care Bowl 2012: Grading Minnesota and Texas Tech's Performances

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    It was a wild Texas shootout in Houston for the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, but the Texas Tech Red Raiders emerged victorious on a last-second field goal, edging the Minnesota Golden Gophers 34-31 in a thrilling Big 12-Big Ten showdown.

    Texas Tech was off to a great start on the arm of quarterback Seth Doege, but Minnesota countered with a strong ground game. The Gophers stayed close and came back in the second half, taking the lead early in the fourth quarter.

    Then, it was Doege again who led the Red Raiders down the field for the game-tying touchdown with little more than a minute to go. Next, D.J. Johnson came up with an interception in that final minute to set up the game-winning field goal for Texas Tech.

    The game was marred by penalties and an ejection, but the Red Raiders managed to regain their composure to earn the victory.

    Here are the position group grades from Friday night's pulse-pumping Texas Bowl:

Quarterbacks

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    Seth Doege, Texas Tech: B+

    Doege tossed two interceptions for Texas Tech, and if it weren't for his game-winning drive, his grade would have been much worse.

    However, he did lead TTU to victory and made plays when it counted. 

    The senior ended up 31-of-45 with 271 yards, two total touchdowns and two interceptions in his final game in a Red Raider uniform. Not his best performance but a "W" and game-winning drive makes all the difference.

     

    Philip Nelson, Minnesota: C-

    The freshman had his share of freshman moments, but he also made some nice plays as well. Nelson had a few good-looking throws and runs, but he also missed a number of wide-open receivers which could have made a difference in this close contest.

    Nelson finished 7-of-16 for 188 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. However, unlike Doege, he was unable to make up for his interception. In fact, his pick came at the most inopportune time—on Minnesota's final offensive play. 

    If it weren't for his pick, the Gophers could have fought for overtime, but instead, that play set up the game-winning field goal for TTU—an awful finish to an otherwise solid game. 

Running Backs

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    Texas Tech: B+

    The Red Raiders went heavily in favor of the pass in this one, as Doege flirted with half-a-hundred passing attempts. However, when the Tech running backs were called upon, they did very well.

    Eric Stephens Jr. had four carries for 58 yards, while Kenny Williams had seven touches for 45 yards. SaDale Foster also added 11 yards of his own. The Red Raider runners weren't a huge factor in this game, but these three combined to move the chains numerous times for Tech, all while taking some pressure off Doege.

    Their performance wasn't outstanding, but the Tech staff didn't call for them to be outstanding either.

     

    Minnesota: A-

    For the better part of this game, Minnesota controlled the ground. Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams were a dangerous one-two punch, combining for 136 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

    Early in the game, Tech had no answer for the Golden Gopher backs, as this duo bruised their way to an impressive first half.

    However, later in the game, Texas Tech started to figure out the Minnesota attack, and it's backs were less successful. A lot of late Gopher drives stalled out when they had a chance to salt the game away. Still, the numbers don't lie, and Kirkwood and Williams are hardly to blame for this loss.

Wide Receivers

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    Texas Tech: A

    The Texas Tech receiving corps put together a very nice performance as expected. No Red Raider receiver went over 100 yards or caught multiple touchdowns, but that isn't really this group's identity. 

    Ten different Tech receivers logged a reception in this one, while three different players accounted for the three passing touchdowns.

    Eric Ward and Darrin Moore led the way, combining for 163 yards and a touchdown off 18 receptions. Ward had the biggest play of the whole group, hauling in the game-changing touchdown pass from Doege late in the final frame.

     

    Minnesota: B+

    Minnesota's offensive philosophy didn't allow for a big game for its receiving corps as a whole, still Derrick Engel managed to have one. The junior led all receivers with 108 yards off just four receptions and came about a yard short of a touchdown.

    Devin Tufts-Crawford hauled in a touchdown pass on his lone, 17-yard reception, and this whole group could have certainly benefitted from some more accurate throwing from Nelson and MarQueis Gray under center.

    Like the running backs, this loss can't fall on the shoulders of the Gopher receivers.

Tight Ends

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    Texas Tech: F

    Jace Amaro brought shame to Texas Tech when he was rightfully ejected after throwing a punch while on top of a Minnesota defender right in front of an official.

    He then proceeded to walk off the field with his arms and head held high as if receiving a hero's praise on his way to the locker room.

    The way the game was going, it was only a matter of time before someone was ejected—and Amaro definitely earned shortened night.

     

    Minnesota: A

    Two Gopher tight ends had their names called in this one as two of just four Minnesota players to catch a pass.

    Senior John Rabe had two catches for 20 yards in his final game as a Gopher, while Drew Goodger hauled in a crucial touchdown late in the game.

    Goodger's TD grab came in the fourth quarter on 3rd-and-goal and gave Minnesota its first lead since the second quarter.

Offensive Line

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    Texas Tech: A

    Overall, Texas Tech was stout on the offensive line. Seth Doege was sacked just once in the game, and pressure from Minnesota was never a huge problem.

    In the run game, the Red Raiders benefited from a strong push up front throughout the action.

    As a team, TTU netted a very impressive six yards per carry, while running backs Stephens and Williams averaged an incredible 9.3 yards per carry.

     

    Minnesota: A-

    This offensive line allowed just three sacks on the game—none of which really hurt Minnesota's chances at all. Likewise to the Red Raiders, pressure on Nelson was never a huge issue.

    Also in a similar fashion to TTU, the Gopher offensive line controlled the point of attack and was able to generate a great push for its backs.

    Kirkwood, Williams and Gray—Minnesota's three leading rushers—all averaged more than four yards per carry, which is outstanding, considering they combined for 42 rushing attempts.

    The minus here comes from one drive in particular in which Minnesota was flagged for two personal foul penalties and an illegal block. Center Zac Epping was at the center of these flags, which set the Gophers up in a 3rd-and-49 situation. Understandably, Jerry Kill didn't have a 3rd-and-50 slot on his play card, and the Minnesota drive ended abruptly.

Defensive Line

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    Texas Tech, Minnesota: D

    Both of these teams were pushed around on the defensive front all game long, as both running games were able to find success.

    Neither defensive front was able to generate consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback, as both units looked generally soft.

    These two groups were equally unimpressive, and together, earned a solid "D."

Linebackers

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    Texas Tech, Minnesota: D

    Much like the defensive lines, neither of these linebacking groups stood out at all.

    Both sets of runners were constantly darting straight through to the third level of the defense, as no linebacker in this game really stepped up and decided that he was going to eat up some tackles or plug some running lanes.

    Both defenses were really handled up front all game long, which comes back to the whole defensive front—linebackers included.

    Minnesota's Mike Rallis had nine tackles while Texas Tech's Will Smith had eight, but neither of them had a single tackle behind the line of scrimmage. 

    Aside from these two, the game's leading tacklers were all defensive backs, which does not reflect well on either linebacking corps.

Defensive Backs

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    Texas Tech: A-

    Texas Tech's secondary could have done much worse if Minnesota had an accurate quarterback. Nelson missed numerous wide-open receivers and still threw two touchdown passes.

    Overall, it wasn't a great night for the Red Raider defensive backs, but safety D.J. Johnson saved the grade for this group.

    With 14 tackles, he was the kid in your group project at school who came to the group meetings with his and everybody else's work done. Then, he absolutely killed it during the final presentation, when he came up with the play of the game, intercepting Nelson in the final minute. 

    Alone, he earned an "A," but the rest of the group pulled his grade down to an "A-." Now, he may be mad at them for ruining his 4.0, but I'm sure he's happy with the victory.

     

    Minnesota: A-

    Michael Carter was Minnesota's Johnson. 

    Carter made a beautiful visual aid and typed a flawless paper with his two interceptions, showing that he just may have what it takes to succeed at the next level. Carter really had an incredible game and even earned player of the game honors in the loss.

    However, despite his best efforts, the rest of the group forgot their lines during the presentation, allowing Red Raider receiver Eric Ward to run free on Tech's game-tying touchdown drive. 

    That poor presentation grade nullified Carter's eye-popping poster and paper filled with SAT words, giving this group an "A-."

Special Teams

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    Texas Tech: A-

    Jakeem Grant had an electrifying 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown for Texas Tech's first score. He benefited from some great blocking and darted through a couple of nice seams so quickly that Minnesota had no real shot at stopping him.

    However, the grade falls here because of a blocked field goal and a couple of ugly punts.

    In the end, though, kicker Ryan Bustin knocked home two field goals including the game-winner as time expired.

     

    Minnesota: B+

    As previously mentioned, Minnesota had a nice blocked field goal which came at the pinnacle of Texas Tech's second-half collapse. 

    However, Minnesota also gave up a huge kick return to Grant that ended in a touchdown. Christian Eldred also had a few ugly punts of his own.

    In the end, the only difference between these two units was the ultimate difference in the game—one, measly 28-yard field goal that just so happened to win the football game.

Coaching

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    Jerry Kill, Minnesota: D

    Chris Thomsen, Texas Tech: D

    Both of these coaches brought in well-prepared teams to this game, and both squads really came ready to play from the start.

    Throughout the action, both coaches stuck tight to their game plans and trusted the strengths of their respective squads.

    Kill relied on the running game, which benefited the team immensely. In the end, it was an interception from Nelson that killed the team's chances. However, I'm not going to knock a coach for trying to win a football game in the final minute.

    Thomsen relied heavily on the arm of Doege, a proven quarterback, who ended up leading the drive that made the difference in the game. He also kept Minnesota off-balance just enough with the run.

    Neither coach made notable mistakes, but their "D" grades come from one figure: penalties.

    The teams combined to have 20 penalties for 219 yards.

    These weren't little false-start and offside penalties either. Many of these were personal foul and unsportsmanlike penalties, which shows an utter lack of discipline.

    That comes back to coaching.