Red Raiders fans expected out in full force

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 27, 2012 - 11:22 PM

More than 60,000 fans could show up for Friday night's Meineke Car Care Bowl in Reliant Stadium, and Texas Tech left tackle LaAdrian Waddle is pretty sure of one thing: They won't be rooting for the Gophers.

HOUSTON -- More than 60,000 fans could show up for Friday night's Meineke Car Care Bowl in Reliant Stadium, and Texas Tech left tackle LaAdrian Waddle is pretty sure of one thing: They won't be rooting for the Gophers.

"Oh yeah, our people are coming out. The alumni down here, the fans who are driving down, just all the Texans, we know they're here to support us," the All-Big 12 offensive lineman said. "We always get a little extra juice from the crowd. It really gets us going."

Funny thing, though. The Gophers figure being the bad guys, the invaders from up north, will get them going, too. Energy is energy, after all, and the Reliant Stadium crowd has numbered greater than 68,000 for each of the past three years.

"We know it'll be a Tech crowd. They travel well, and we're in their backyard. But it's going to make the game that much more fun," said senior linebacker Keanon Cooper. "Having it be an actual game atmosphere, rather than an empty stadium like a lot of bowl games, I'm really looking forward to that."

He's looking forward to seeing some familiar faces in that crowd, too. Cooper is one of 13 Texans on the Gophers' roster, and the only one to have played in every Minnesota game for the past four years. But in none of his previous 49 collegiate games was his Texas family -- his mother, siblings, aunts, uncles -- present to watch. That changes Friday, in his collegiate finale.

"I have a lot of family coming up. It's a sight," said Cooper, a Dallas native who helped provide tickets for 23 family members and friends. "They've never seen me play football, so it's going to mean a lot for me to see them there."

Even if it won't be easy picking them out among the Texas Tech hordes.

More wrinkles to come?

The Red Raiders are already one of the most unique teams in college football, utilizing a no-huddle offense to keep defenses from catching their breath. But with a month to prepare, the Gophers can expect to see even more wrinkles from the Texas Tech attack.

"I'm a little bit conservative, but I've got some coaches on my staff that are prodding me -- 'Let's do this, let's do that,' " said Chris Thomsen, who took over bowl preparations three weeks ago when coach Tommy Tuberville left to become the head coach at Cincinnati. "So I'll probably open up a little bit. [The players] are fired up about doing some different things."

Gophers took rocky road

The Gophers opened the season with four consecutive victories, but the Big Ten season was a far bigger challenge, and in a lot of different ways. Kill's No. 1 and 2 quarterbacks both got hurt, the offensive line was hit with a wave of injuries, Kill himself had a couple of seizure episodes, and leading receiver A.J. Barker quit the team.

"We've kind of done things the hard way, I guess you could say," Kill said.

So looking back on a 6-6 season, which game was the highlight of Minnesota's season?

"I think Syracuse was probably the game where our team played with tremendous enthusiasm, played very hard," Kill said of the Gophers' 17-10 victory over the Orange on Sept. 22. "They had a very skilled group of receivers and quarterback, [and] they spread the ball, went no-huddle. I thought we played very well. ... We did some good things offensively."

Of course, that game was quarterbacked by Max Shortell, who decided to transfer shortly after the regular season ended. This game will feature freshman Philip Nelson and senior MarQueis Gray at quarterback, but "hopefully we can execute like that" against Texas Tech, Kill said.

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