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The Scoop on Friday's bowl games

A diverse triple-header gets us rolling into the weekend. ULM kicks the day off with the first bowl game in school history, Rutgers and Virginia Tech stage their first game since 2003 and Texas Tech meets Minnesota in a re-match of the epic 2006 Insight Bowl. 

Independence Bowl - Ohio vs. Louisiana - Monroe (2 p.m. ET, ESPN): A MAC team makes its first trip to Shreveport since 2004, while ULM will become the first Sun Belt program to play in the 36-year old bowl game. In fact, the Independence Bowl marks the Warhawks' first bowl appearance in 18 seasons as an FBS program. Todd Berry's team reached the national consciousness in September with back-to-back overtime thrillers against Arkansas and Auburn; in fact, the team set a school record with four overtime affairs this season. ULM's offense is keyed by the combination of quarterback Kolton Browning (second in the Sun Belt in total offense with 2,830 passing yards and 441 rushing yards) and Sun Belt-leading receiver Brent Leonard, who has caught 97 passes for 1,042 yards and 10 scores. Defensively, the Warhawks lead the Sun Belt in one metric: rushing defense (135.8 yards per game, 3.8 yards per carry). 

Frank Solich's squad started the season 7-0 and became a trendy dark horse to become the MAC's first BCS buster (an honor that eventually went to Northern Illinois), but dropped four of its last five games to bowl bound squads Miami (Ohio), Bowling Green, Ball State and Kent State. Quarterback Tyler Tettleton drew the preseason headlines, but running back Beau Blankenship proved to be Ohio's offensive engine. Blankenship posted eight 100-yard games, ran for at least 72 yards in every contest and ran for more yards than every MAC player not named Jordan Lynch. ULM may have the overtime experience, but Ohio has emerged victorious in four of its five games decided by one score or less. 

Russell Athletic Bowl - Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): The Orlando-based bowl has changed sponsors from a a sporting goods retailer (Champs Sports) to manufacturer, and features a one-time Big East matchup that has occurred 15 times in history, with Virginia Tech taking the last 11 meetings. In a rare down season under Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech sputtered to a 6-6 record behind a good-but-not-great defense and an offense that never truly got off the ground. Dual-threat quarterback Logan Thomas rushed for 528 yards and nine scores and threw for 2,783 yards but balanced 17 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. The Hokies, who needed to squeak by Boston College and Virginia to qualify for the program's 20th straight bowl. Virginia Tech's best win came in a 37-0 triumph over Bowling Green. Needless to say, Beamer's team needs a signature win.

Kyle Flood has stressed throughout December workouts that he wants to go 1-0 in the bowl, and to do that Rutgers will need to mentally rebound from an emotionally-draining 20-17 loss to Louisville in the regular season finale. The Scarlet Knights don't wow anyone on offense (100th in total offense, 94th in scoring offense) and win games through a consistent defense. Rutgers ranks fifth nationally in scoring defense and have permitted just 9.9 points per game in their nine victories. Rutgers ranked second in the Big East in rushing defense (105  yards per game, 2.94 yards per carry) and lead the league with 29 turnovers forced. 

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas - Minnesota vs. Texas Tech (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): Minnesota dismissed head coach Glen Mason following the Golden Gophers' blown loss to Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight Bowl and have needed six seasons and two head coaches to recover. The Gophers sputtered into Houston, dropping six of their last eight games. With an offense that produces 21.3 points per game (the second-fewest of any bowl participant), Minnesota will attempt to slow the game down as much as possible. The Gophers' defensive backfield will give Jerry Kill's team a puncher's chance, as Minnesota placed 19th nationally in pass efficiency defense with an average of six yards per attempt with 11 interceptions against 13 touchdowns.

However, those numbers were accumulated against a total of 357 passes this season. Texas Tech threw 547 passes in 12 games and, with senior quarterback Seth Doege playing his final game in red and black, figures to only up the ante. Texas Tech will be perhaps the most spirited of any bowl team playing for an interim coach, playing in front of a large alumni base in Houston with favorite son Kliff Kingsbury his program from the sidelines. The Red Raiders will do their best to put the ball in Doege's hands, who in turn will fire it to his pair of top 20 pass catchers Darrin Moore and Eric Ward, and turn challenge Minnesota to keep up. 

Saban: 'Quality practices are more important now than in season'

When Nick Saban talks about how to prepare for the national title game, take some notes because history has proven that he knows how to prepare for the big games.

Yesterday, Saban explained that getting quality practices in during bowl season is more important than quality practices during the season because you haven't played in a game in quite some time. Because of that, you don't have the luxury of playing a game a week to get used to game speed and game situations, which are very difficult to replicate on the practice field..

"The quality of practice is more important now than it is during the season because you haven't played in a long time."

"So finishing and practicing the right way, thudding runners, finishing blocks, finishing runs, not having got hit that many times, ball security...all those things are really important to be able to get done in practice because you don't have a game every week to get used to playing your way into what it takes to be competitive and to do all those things correctly in a game." Saban explained.

'It's not always about how many points you score'

With four of the top ten teams in scoring coming from Big 12 country, you know your going to need a few games where your offense puts up 50 if you're going to escape with a win. That's just the nature of the beast.

But some offensive coordinators believe that more of an emphasis should be put on when you score, rather than how often you put points up.

When Iowa State's Courtney Messingham took over as offensive coordinator this season, he knew he was going to have to score in bunches, but looking back on the season has also come to appreciate the importance of when you score, rather than how much.

“There were games this year where our offense needed to be more productive, no doubt. There are others where we did our job, and Baylor is one that jumps out for me." he explained to the WCF Courier.

“We needed to keep the ball away from Baylor’s offense and we did that, did that for something like 39 minutes."

At that point in the season, Baylor went into Ames with the third best scoring offense in the nation averaging nearly 50 points per game. The Cyclones ate up some clock (they held a 39-21 minute advantage) and made the most of their opportunities when they presented themselves to eventually come away with a pivotal 35-21 win.

“So it’s not always about how many points you score. Yes, sometimes you need to go out and score 50, that is part of the deal in this conference. But from our standpoint, when you have a defense that played as well as ours did, we have to score when the opportunities present themselves, get to that fourth quarter with a chance to deliver our team a victory, and I feel we did that a lot this season.”

Messingham and the Cyclone offense will have to contend with another high octane offense capable of scoring in bunches on December 31st against Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30pm ET on ESPN.

 

 

 

Friday Bowl TV - Three more games today

Another round of solid bowl games on tap today. Games get started a little earlier today with Louisiana-Monroe and Ohio kicking off a 2pm ET.

Eastern time listed.

NFL:

No games

College:

Independence Bowl - Louisiana Monroe vs. Ohio - 2 - ESPN

Russell Athletic Bowl - Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech - 5:30 - ESPN

Car Care Bowl - Minnesota vs. Texas Tech - 9 - ESPN

High School:

No games

A couple grad assistants are getting their shot in a bowl

Tonight in the Belk Bowl, Cincinnati enters a unique situation with a handful of their grad assistants and off the field guys taking some on the field coaching roles, after Butch Jones took many of the Bearcat assistants to Knoxville with him.

Offensive grad assistants Cody Kempt and Joe Hensel has been working with the quarterbacks and offensive line, respectively, and defensive grad assistant Chase Gibson has been coaching the linebackers in preparation for the Belk Bowl. Also adding on the field coaching duties this past week was special teams quality control coach Greg Meyer, who will be coordinating the special teams tonight.

Keep an eye on those guys and their respective positions tonight.

Having this chance in a bowl game is a great opportunity for any grad assistant, and we hear the guys in Cincinnati are very excited and prepared to make the most of their unique opportunity.

Let us know of the other graduate assistants out there that have been elevated to an on the field role during bowl season, and we'll be sure to recognize them.

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