Texas Tech & Minnesota Face Off Friday at the Insight Bowl

Source: texastech.cstv.com
Source: texastech.cstv.com

In recent years, the Insight Bowl has produced basketball scores in a baseball park.

In 2003, California beat Virginia Tech 52-49 in Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Last year, Arizona State edged Rutgers 45-40.
The Insight moves to a football venue, Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium, for Friday night's game between Texas Tech (7-5) and Minnesota (6-6). But don't be surprised if the Red Raiders and Golden Gophers uphold the Insight's high-scoring history. Tech helped established that tradition with a 55-41 victory over Air Force in the 1995 Insight Bowl, played in Tucson's Arizona Stadium.

"This has the potential to be a shootout game," Minnesota center Tony Brinkaus said.

Coach Mike Leach's Red Raiders rank seventh in Division I-A total offense, averaging 439.5 yards per game. And while Minnesota's 39th-rated offense gains a relatively modest 368.6 yards per game, the Golden Gophers found their rhythm down the stretch, scoring 128 points in sweeping their final three games to become bowl-eligible.

"We better be able to score a lot of points," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. "Those guys put the ball in the end zone more than anyone I know."

Red Raiders quarterback Graham Harrell had a productive first season as a starter. The sophomore has completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,110 yards and 36 touchdowns, most in Big 12 play.

Leach's offense is based on unpredictability. The Red Raiders are at their best when they spread the ball to numerous receivers, keeping the defense guessing.

That's why it's no surprise that two Tech receivers have 80 catches this year. Joel Filani, a senior from Phoenix, gained 1,138 yards and scored 12 touchdowns while Robert Johnson, a senior, had 80 receptions for 774 yards and 10 scores.

"We try to get everyone to touch the ball," Leach said. "It's not a guessing game except for maybe the defense. We don't try to run on pass downs and throw on run downs. We try to make teams guess who's going to get the ball. We want to keep teams on their heels."

When Tech's attack is clicking, the Red Raiders can be hard to stop. But they have sputtered at times, producing a total of nine points in losses at Texas Christian and Colorado.

The Gophers allow 416 yards per game, 113th out of 119 Division I-A teams. Their best hope of slowing Tech's offense may be to keep it on the sideline.

The best way to do that is to control the football with a running game led by Amir Pinnix, who has rushed for 1,093 yards and nine touchdowns this season.

Minnesota's passing attack may struggle without All-America tight end Matt Spaeth, who had shoulder surgery after the regular season.

The Golden Gophers will also try to force turnovers. Minnesota's plus-16 turnover margin is tops in the nation.

"Those are just statistics," Tech center Brandon Jones said. "Defensively, they fly around to the ball. We're just going to have to go in and play our game, just do what we can up front and give Graham some time and just see what happens."

With a 6-6 record, the Golden Gophers are fortunate to be in a bowl game. They started the season 2-5, with the wins coming against overmatched Kent State and Temple. Minnesota had to block a field goal attempt as time expired to defeat Division I-AA North Dakota State 10-9 in Minneapolis Oct. 21. A loss there would have all but ended Minnesota's bowl hopes.

"To end the season with four (straight) wins, after the way our season went, would just be stellar and show the complete turnaround and the growing up that this team has done," junior linebacker Mike Sherels said.

The Red Raiders, by contrast, staggered to the finish line, losing four of their last seven. Three of the losses came to Top 25 teams.

The Red Raiders face off against the Golden Gopher Friday, December 29th at 7:05pm. The game can be seen on the NFL Network.