By KRISTIE RIEKEN, AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) - The Minnesota Gopher football team is playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2009 tonight, facing Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston. The Golden Gophers won six games this season, which is the same number of games they won in the previous two seasons combined.
"We're in the building blocks of a program right now,'' said Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill. "There's no question that getting a bowl victory gives you great momentum going into the offseason. We won our last game of the year last year, and I feel like it took some momentum into the offseason. I think getting a bowl win would be certainly special for this group of kids, and certainly our seniors that have been through so much.''
A win tonight would give Minnesota a winning record for the first time since going 7-6 in 2008.
To do that they'll have to figure out how to slow down Texas Tech's passing attack. Quarterback Seth Doege Doege is fourth in the nation in yards passing with 3,934 and his 38 touchdown passes are second in the country. He needs just 66 yards to join Graham Harrell as the only players in school history to throw for 4,000 yards in consecutive seasons.
Doege will face a Minnesota defense that is 11th in the nation against the pass, allowing 178.5 yards a game. The Gophers have allowed just one 300-yard passer this season. Doege has nine games with more than 300 yards passing this season, and two for more than 400, including a season-high of 499 against West Virginia.
"I don't think we have to do anything a lot different, and they're not going to do anything different,'' Kill said. "And I think that the style gives us an opportunity to try to keep their offense off the field, but we have to stay on the field. We didn't do a real good job of that over the last two ball games.''
The Red Raiders head into the game after some serious upheaval, with coach Tommy Tuberville abruptly leaving the team for the job in Cincinnati. Doege, a senior, remembers how the team came together for a win in the Alamo Bowl under an interim coach just days after coach Mike Leach was fired in the 2009 season.
The Red Raiders have hired Kliff Kingsbury to replace Tuberville, but interim coach Chris Thomsen will lead Texas Tech against Minnesota.
"It's settled now, and the young guys are excited. I remember ... when I was younger how close we became as a football team,'' Doege said. "Because with all the uncertainty, all the distractions, that's what gets you through it.''
Thomsen, who coached the offensive line before becoming the interim head coach, said he believes his team has dealt with the changes and is ready to move forward.
"It's really just business as usual for us,'' Thomsen said. "The great thing about this team, the staple of this team, has been leadership all year, and we define leadership as guys who come out every single day focused and do it. If you can do that, you can lead as a freshman, sophomore, senior; it doesn't matter. And that's really the way they've approached it.''
Minnesota's Kill doesn't expect any drop off for the Red Raiders with Tuberville's departure.
"I don't think a whole lot is going to change with them,'' Kill said. "Their system, offensively all the way back to coach Leach, has stayed the same, pretty much ... they've got good football players, a good system, and I know they'll be prepared to play.''
Texas Tech returns to a bowl game after seeing an 18-year bowl streak snapped with last season's disappointing 5-7 finish. This is their fourth straight bowl game in Texas and their eighth since 2000. They've won their last two bowl games.
The Gophers' last bowl appearance was in 2009, when they lost to Iowa State 14-13 in the Insight Bowl. Their last bowl victory was in 2004, in the Music City Bowl, when they defeated Alabama 20-16.