Where Will Defense Come from in Meineke Car Care Bowl?
On December 28, the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Texas Tech Red Raiders will meet in Houston for the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The main thing that should be focused on with regards to this game is how little defense is going to make a difference. There may be a late turnover or miscue that could help decide things, but for the most part the defenses will be out there mainly to add to the illusion that the two offenses will actually be contested.
If both of these teams know anything, they know how to score points. In terms of the nation, the Red Raiders are inside the top 20 for scoring and while the Golden Gophers aren’t nearly as high in that ranking as their opponent, they know how to score as well.
The Red Raiders have been a scoring machine this season with Seth Doege continuing the school’s recent tradition of statistic machine quarterbacks. Doege finished with just under 4,000 yards passing, nearly 40 touchdowns, and a 70% completion percentage. His 14 interceptions were simply the collateral damage that comes with playing quarterback in the Big 12. The Red Raiders were in numerous shootouts this season that demonstrated how they were able to get by relying on their offense to bail the team out. This is basically what happened in the Red Raiders’ wins over the TCU Horned Frogs and Kansas Jayhawks. However, that lack of defense did cost them in a shootout against the Baylor Bears and allowed their game against the Oklahoma St. Cowboys to get away from them.
Of course, the best example of the Red Raiders being insync with one another on both sides of the ball was their home win in early October against the West Virginia Mountaineers. Doege threw for six touchdowns in the Red Raiders’ 49-14 win while their defense kept Geno Smith in check the entire game; they allowed nearly 300 passing yards from Smith, but only one touchdown pass. The most impressive part of this performance from the Red Raiders’ defense was that the Moutaineers committed zero turnovers in the loss.
The Golden Gophers aren’t ranked high in points scoring, but that’s deceptive. The only teams the Golden Gophers weren’t able to score on were the best teams on their schedule, and two notable exceptions: only 17 points in a win over the Syracuse Orangemen weeks after ‘Cuse and the Northwestern Wildcats had a wild shootout, and only 17 in a win against the Illinois Fighting Illini. Their upcoming bowl game will likely be an example of what the Golden Gophers’ offense can do against a defense that is barely a defense to begin with.
The Golden Gophers’ defense is also a bit deceptive. They are ranked inside the top 40 for points allowed, but if you look through their season, it’s a handful of tomato cans that help pad those numbers. The Golden Gophers gave up 10 or less points this season against the Orangemen, the Fighting Illini, and the New Hampshire Wildcats. Needless to say, these weren’t high-caliber offenses. On the other hand, the Golden Gophers allowed 38 against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 38 against the Wisconsin Badgers, and 35 against the Michigan Wolverines; these were the best offenses that the Golden Gophers faced this season. Also, the 31 that they allowed against the Iowa Hawkeyes doesn’t speak too loudly to their defensive capabilities.
One other thing to remember and then keep an eye on during the game is the effect (if any) Tommy Tuberville ditching the Red Raiders for the vacant Cincinnati Bearcats coaching job.
This is a game that will continue a trend that I’m anticipating in this year’s bowl games: both teams scoring 30 or more points. I am aware that this can happen in any bowl season, but this year feels different. And the Meineke Car Care Bowl is an example of what makes this year different: the lack of defense all-around among the two teams in a bowl game. This year is littered with them and if the Gildan New Mexico Bowl was any indication, this is going to be a really high-scoring bowl season with the Meineke Car Care Bowl providing one of many examples.