Wednesday marks day 32 without a Gopher football game. With only two days left until Minnesota battles in a bowl game in Houston, the team is near full health for the first time since non-conference play.
Still, Minnesota is a major underdog for the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Friday, Dec. 28 against the Red Raiders of Texas Tech.
The reason behind the underdog status of the program heading into the bowl game is that the Gophers opponent for Friday’s game has an offense dangerous to contain, not to mention that Minnesota is still unsure of its starting quarterback.
A high-octane offense is not what the Gophers are looking forward to.
A 13-point spread seems plenty for two evenly ranked teams. Both have won only two of their last five games. While the teams have the similar records heading into Friday’s contest, the strengths of the teams are polar opposites.
The fewest amount of points Texas Tech has scored this season is 20. Minnesota has not scored that many points since its October victory over Purdue.
The Red Raiders are known for its prolific passing offense. With almost 362 passing yards a game, the team is ranked second in the nation in passing.
Senior quarterback Seth Doege has racked up just under four thousand yards along with 38 touchdowns on the season. In a two game stretch against West Virginia and TCU, Doege had 13 touchdowns.
He heavily targets his top two receivers every game and with success. Eric Ward and Darrin Moore have each notched over 75 receptions on the season along with over 900 receiving yards. He completes over 70 percent of his passes.
On the other sideline, the Gophers top receiver (sans AJ Barker) this season in receptions is sophomore Isaac Fruechte (19) and no current Gopher receiver has over 300 yards.
The air attack style of play that Texas Tech is famous for forces opponents to throw the ball to compete and play in up-tempo style all game.
Even though it relies on the up-tempo game, the Red Raiders are also sneaky in the run game. The team averages over five yards a carry combined for its top three running backs. Its leading rusher, Kenny Williams, averages 5.7 yards a carry, but also averages less than 65 yards a game.
The strength for Minnesota all season, its secondary, will have to come up huge in order to win. In contrast, a healthy passing attack for the Gophers would also aid in the teams first bowl game since 2009.
Although the offensive line is finally at full strength for the team, the wide receiver corp for Minnesota is razor thin. Both MarQueis Gray and freshman Philip Nelson have taken first-team reps during practice this week under center.
With the departure of AJ Barker, a ACL injury to Marcus Jones, and a suspension to Andre McDonald, it is also unknown of the starting tandem for wide receiver for Friday.
It’s likely to see a lot of walk-on Derrick Engel and transfer Isaac Fruechte during the contest. Both are favorite targets for either starting quarterback. Besides a couple of other options, the Gophers will have to trust and give amble playing time to its bevy of tight ends.
John Rabe has been solid in his two seasons at Minnesota. Drew Goodger has good hands and is reliable in both the running and passing games. More playing time is likely for true freshman Lincoln Plsek. His redshirt was burned late in the season, and the tight end has seen more playing time since.
If the Gophers have any chance of contending in its bowl game, it will need contributions from both Nelson and Gray.