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Meineke Car Care Bowl notebook: Three Texas Tech players to miss bowl game

Cornelius Douglas, Leon Mackey and Chris Payne will not play for the Red Raiders in Friday's game

Posted: December 24, 2012 - 6:47pm  |  Updated: December 25, 2012 - 1:21am
Texas Tech interim head coach Chris Thomsen watches over during practice on Monday at Rice Stadium in Houston. (Zach Long)  Zach Long
Zach Long
Texas Tech interim head coach Chris Thomsen watches over during practice on Monday at Rice Stadium in Houston. (Zach Long)
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Three to miss bowl

Texas Tech players Cornelius Douglas, Leon Mackey and Chris Payne aren’t with the Red Raiders in Houston and won’t play in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Tech spokesman Blayne Beal said.

Interim head coach Chris Thomsen said two of the players missed December practices in Lubbock without notifying coaches in advance. He said he could not discuss the reason for the other player’s absence because of privacy laws.

He declined to specify which players broke which rules.

“A couple of guys back in Lubbock weren’t able to be there at practice a couple of times and didn’t communicate that to us,” Thomsen said after Monday’s workout at Rice Stadium. “That’s basically what we said day one is, our objective is to win the game. To do that, you have to be focused and you have to understand preparation. A couple of guys didn’t make it, but we’re ready to go with the guys we’ve got.”

The developments mean Douglas and Mackey, both seniors, will miss their last college game. Douglas is a starting cornerback when healthy, though he just returned in the final regular-season game from a knee injury that sidelined him for nearly six full games.

Mackey is a backup defensive tackle, and Payne a backup linebacker who played almost solely on special teams.

Both Tech (7-5) and Minnesota (6-6) started on-site preparation Monday for their game at 8 p.m. Friday at Reliant Stadium. The first-day workout weather was perfect: in the mid-60s for the Red Raiders’ morning practice at Rice Stadium and in the low-70s for the Golden Gophers’ afternoon practice at St. Thomas High School.

Thomsen mum on Cal

Tech coach Chris Thomsen said he could not talk about a report linking him to Sonny Dykes’ new staff at California, but he did not dispute its accuracy. The web site CoachingSearch.com reported Sunday that Thomsen will be leaving Tech to become the Golden Bears’ offensive line coach.

When asked about it Monday, Thomsen said, “Really, right now, I can’t (address it), because there’s been no official announcement, no contract or anything like that.”

Torres questionable

Tech receiver Alex Torres probably will be a game-time decision Friday, acting head coach Chris Thomsen said. Torres participated in Monday’s workout, but didn’t go the entire time and came back out in a wind suit late in the practice.

“He practiced today, and we’ll see,” Thomsen said. “He’s struggled with some injuries the last couple of weeks, but I think he’ll be ready to go, at least give us some reps.”

The senior from El Paso has 21 receptions for 228 yards and three touchdowns this season. He missed the last two regular-season games against Oklahoma State and Baylor due to a flare-up of his chronic back problems.

Strength coach retained

The Avalanche-Journal learned Monday that new head coach Kliff Kingsbury has retained assistant strength and conditioning coach Aaron Uzzell, who has 16 years experience with the Tech program.

Uzzell, a Tech graduate from Sanford-Fritch, will be working for his fourth head coach. He originally was hired by Spike Dykes and stayed with the program during the transitions to Mike Leach and Tommy Tuberville. He joined the Red Raiders around the same time as director of football operations Tommy McVay, who also was retained and will be working for his fourth Tech head coach.

Kingsbury has hired Chad Dennis, with whom he worked at Houston and Texas A&M, as head strength and conditioning coach.

Smith excited

Former Tech linebacker Mike Smith said Monday he’s looking forward to the opportunity to come back to Tech. The New York Daily News reported late Saturday that the 31-year-old Smith is ending a three-year stint on the New York Jets’ staff to become co-defensive coordinator on Kliff Kingsbury’s new Tech staff.

In a text message to an Avalanche-Journal reporter, Smith said, “It’s tough leaving those guys. I’m excited to come home, though.”

Smith played for the Red Raiders from 2000 through 2004.

Decision time near

Wide receiver Eric Ward acknowledged he might forego his senior year of eligibility, given that he already has graduated from Tech and has a young son. Ward spent the fall semester working toward a second degree in human science.

“It still is (up) in the air right now,” Ward said Monday. “I haven’t made a concrete decision.

“Of course, because I’ve got a family, I’ve got to do what’s best for them. If it was just me by myself and a college student, it would be an easier decision. But I’ve got to look out for my family first.”

Ward, a junior from Wichita Falls Rider, had 84 catches for 800 yards and 11 touchdowns last year and 75 catches for 974 yards and 11 TDs this season.

“Since I have my degree,” Ward said, “(the decision) will be more on what will propel me as a player — staying or going?”

Ward said he plans to make up his mind before the spring semester starts.

Gophers’ QB call

Minnesota coach Jerry Kill has not named a starter at quarterback for Friday’s bowl game, but he said both freshman Philip Nelson and senior MarQueis Gray will both play a role.

“With what we do, going into Friday night’s game, they’re both going to be important,” Kill said. “I don’t want to get into what we’re going to do game plan-wise, but they’re both going to be very important in our game plan.”

Minnesota used three different quarterbacks this season, but one of those players, Max Shortell, announced that he would transfer from the program at the end of the regular season.

Nelson, who had his redshirt pulled in the middle of the season with Minnesota struggling at the position, threw for 735 yards with six touchdowns and seven interceptions. Gray threw for 464 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in 10 games, but in addition to his quarterbacking duties, Gray contributes as both a receiver and rusher. He caught 12 passes for 121 yards this season and carried the ball 61 times for 379 yards.

The more things change ...

Minnesota coach Jerry Kill doesn’t expect Texas Tech’s coaching change to have too much affect on how the Red Raiders will play on Friday.

He still predicts a relentless offensive attack that will give his team challenges.

“I don’t think a whole lot is going to change with them,” Kill said. “Their system offensively, all the way back to coach (Mike) Leach, has stayed the same. I know their coach now (Chris Thomsen). He’s been a coach at Abilene Christian; I know his background. It’s no different than when I went to Northern Illinois for Minnesota. (Northern Illinois) went to a bowl game, played very well and won.

“Not a lot changes at Texas Tech. They’ve got good players, a good system and they’ll be prepared to play. We just have to worry about what we have to do and try to execute.”

In brief

Tech TE Jace Amaro has been cleared to play in Friday’s game, Tech spokesman Blayne Beal said. Amaro missed the last six games with a spleen injury. He practiced Monday while wearing a non-contact jersey. ... Minnesota has sold about 2,500 tickets from its allotment of 12,000, team spokesman Paul Rovnak said.

Compiled by Don Williams and Nick Kosmider

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That was good.

Lots of info on lots of people.

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