HOUSTON — The most remarkable thing about Texas Tech winning the Meineke Car Care Bowl was that for most of the night the Red Raiders had not appeared to be particularly interested in winning the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
This is a subjective analysis, of course, but even the Red Raiders (8-5) had to admit they did not maximize their potential Friday night in Houston, where they beat Minnesota 34-31 at Reliant Stadium. They are not a half-step slower than Minnesota (6-7), but they sure looked that way on Friday.
They were supposed to win this bowl game by two or three touchdowns. They they looked like they had read that somewhere, trusted its veracity and sort of just hoped to skip to the end of the night when they could hold up the trophy and then move on from this painful season in which their coach, Tommy Tuberville, left them for Cincinnati.
For a lot of the Red Raiders, this was the second time they had seen their coach leave. So let’s get out of here, get on with it and start again in the spring with a new coach Kliff Kingsbury, who was one of them and was happy about it.
“It ended the way it started,” senior quarterback Seth Doege said. “With coach Tubs leaving and us having to battle some adversity.”
A good deal of Friday’s adversity was self-created. The Red Raiders got themselves dragged into the muck by a team which rather alarmingly has a deep pathological sense of its place in the world.
“Any time you’re a Gopher, you’re always going to be the underdog,” said quarterback MarQueis Gray, who could have been speaking of the sports or natural world.
Texas Tech outgained Minnesota 429-368, although Texas Tech gave away 135 yards in penalties alone.
This was a bloody knuckles kind of game. There were nine personal fouls called, the eighth of which got Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro thrown out of the game for throwing a punch.
The play hurt because it took Texas Tech’s starting tight end out of the game with almost 17 minutes left, but also because it happened on a run that got the Red Raiders inside the Minnesota 1-yard line. Rather than punching in a touchdown which would have put Texas Tech up 31-24, it moved the Red Raiders back to the 16-yard line.
At that point they kicked a field goal, but it was wiped off on account of a false start. After the penalty, they tried again and Minnesota blocked it.
So it was still 24-24 and Texas Tech look like it was finished. Minnesota scored the go-ahead touchdown almost immediately, because of course it did. Texas Tech was done.
On Texas Tech’s next possession, Texas Tech wide receiver Tyson Williams got open on the seam and dropped what probably would have been a game-tying touchdown pass, because of course he did.
Texas Tech then forced a punt, but on its offensive possession a receiver fell down and Doege’s pass was intercepted, because of course it was.
But as bad as everything had looked, as uninterested as Texas Tech had appeared to be, it was still, remarkably, a one-score game in the final minutes.
Suddenly a game Texas Tech probably deserved to lose was actually winnable. If the Red Raiders could just summon that bounce they must have felt in September. If they could find their verve again, if they could — in spite of the coaching change, the four losses in five games, the first 56 minutes of Friday night — pull it together for three minutes, 24 seconds, they could end this bowl game feeling good again.
Doege, who threw for 271 yards a touchdown and two interceptions, started the drive with four consecutive completions, missed one, hit another and from the Minnesota 35-yard line hit Eric Ward on a slant for the game-tying touchdown with 1:10 left.
On third-and-7 from his own 33, Minnesota freshman quarterback Philip Nelson — he finished 7-for-18 for 138 yards, two touchdowns and an interception — lobbed a deep out pattern down the sideline. But Texas Tech safety D.J. Johnson picked it off and returned the ball 39 yards to the Gophers 22, setting up the game-winning kick.
As time ran out Ryan Bustin banged home a knuckleball of a field goal, which was every bit as ugly at the game that preceded it.
The Red Raiders had pulled it together.
“It kinda happened at the right time,” Doege said. “It probably should have happened a lot sooner.”
Probably. But that’s already the distant past. Interim coach Chris Thomsen already has another job lined up, though he didn’t specify where. The rest of the staff, or most of it, is probably gone, too, as is senior quarterback Doege.
This Texas Tech team is history. The next one will look a lot like it. It will run the Air Raid offense which has become such a big part of the identity in Lubbock, Texas. The first Air Raid quarterback at Texas Tech is now the Air Raid coach.
There will be a starting over, but not totally. The circle of life begins a new revolution.
“We did a good job,” Doege said, “of keeping that Texas Tech legacy of the offense intact.”