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Gophers played well enough to win

Donnell Kirkwood and Minnesota were determined to run, and they did just that.

The University of Minnesota football team gets passing grades in its final game of the season, a 34-31 loss to Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. The Gophers looked poised to upset the Red Raiders before a fourth-quarter collapse led to a last-second game-winning field goal for Texas Tech. With the loss, Minnesota finished the season 6-7.


A look at the Gophers' grades for Friday's bowl game.


Running offense: A-


Minnesota knew Texas Tech wasn't used to facing the ground-and-pound type of attack common in the Big Ten. Playing in the Big 12, the Red Raiders more often face a spread offense. So the Gophers' plan was to run the ball right at Texas Tech — and it worked. Minnesota rushed for 222 yards, including 77 yards on nine carries for redshirt sophomore Donnell Kirkwood. Freshman Rodrick Williams added 60 yards on 12 carries, and senior wide receiver-quarterback MarQueis Gray gained 59 yards on 11 carries.


Passing offense: C+


The Gophers used two quarterbacks in Gray and true freshman Philip Nelson, who started Minnesota's final six regular-season games. Nelson finished the game 7-for-18 for 138 yards and two touchdowns — one to wide receiver Devin Crawford-Tufts, the other to tight end Drew Goodger. But Nelson also threw a costly interception in the final minute of regulation that led to the game-winning field goal for Texas Tech. Gray threw sparingly and was ineffective when he did. Minnesota put him back under center in the fourth quarter after Nelson seemingly had established a rhythm. After Gray took a few snaps at quarterback, it appeared to throw the Gophers' offense out of sync.


Running defense: B


Traditionally a pass-first team, Texas Tech didn't run much Friday. The Red Raiders ran for a total of 145 yards on 24 carries, but they didn't do much damage on the ground. Eric Stephens had a team-high 66 yards on just five carries, including a run for 21 yards. Kenny Williams added 45 yards on seven carries, and quarterback Seth Doege ran for Texas Tech's only touchdown on a 4-yard keeper.


Passing defense: B+


Texas Tech came into Friday's game with the second-best passing attack in the nation. The Red Raiders averaged 361.9 yards per game during the regular season. Quarterback Seth Doege put up big numbers all year, including one game in which he threw for 499 yards and another in which he threw seven touchdown passes. But Minnesota's secondary bottled up Doege for most of the game. He finished 31-of-45 for 271 yards and a touchdown, but he was intercepted twice by Gophers senior cornerback Michael Carter.


Special teams: C


It was Jekyll and Hyde for Minnesota's special teams. Texas Tech scored on a 99-yard kickoff return by Jakeem Grant to take a 7-3 lead. Minnesota's punting game was also a weakness, as Christian Eldred averaged just 33 yards per punt. But there were positives, too. Briean Boddy blocked a Texas Tech 38-yard field goal attempt to keep the game tied, 24-24. Senior Troy Stoudermire had four kickoff returns for 111 yards. On his first return of the game, Stoudermire became the NCAA's all-time leader in kick return yards.


Overall: C+


In many ways, this game might have been one of the Gophers' best performances of the season. Minnesota slowed down a high-powered offense and chewed up the clock by establishing its running game on offense. In the end, though, the Gophers couldn't put the game away by scoring late and paid the price when Texas Tech rallied to tie the score with 1:10 left and won the game on a last-second field goal. It's a loss that will sting for a while for Minnesota fans, but the Gophers can take pride in how they played Friday in a game nobody gave them a chance to win.


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