HOUSTON — It certainly didn’t seem like Christmas Eve on Monday at Rice Stadium, where Texas Tech continued its preparations for Friday’s Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas against Minnesota.
Any hopes for a winter wonderland were destroyed by a warm, humid climate with temperatures nearing the mid-70s, but the Red Raiders weren’t complaining.
“It’s warm, there’s no wind, we’ve sweat a whole bunch and it’s a lot of fun,” Tech quarterback Seth Doege said. “It’s a great atmosphere to play football. Maybe not for Christmas, but we’re down here to play a football game, so it’s perfect for us.”
Monday marked exactly a month since the last time Tech played a football game, its last outing an excruciating 52-45 overtime loss to Baylor on Nov. 24. That loss dropped Tech from a potential third-place Big 12 finish into a logjam of four teams that finished at 4-5 in the conference.
But the time between games has seemed even longer given the change that has occurred since the Red Raiders last took the field. Tommy Tuberville left for Cincinnati, Tech hired and Kliff Kingsbury and Chris Thomsen moved into the role of interim coach, as players pondered how the overhaul would affect their futures.
But none of that, Tech players said Monday, has changed what they want to accomplish when they square off against the Gophers at 8 p.m. Friday inside Reliant Stadium.
“It’s been a ride,” said Tech offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, whose hometown of Columbus is only about an hour and a half away from Reliant Stadium. “It’s had some ups and some downs, but like everybody says, you just have to go out there and give it your best shot and just roll with it. Things aren’t always going to go your way. It’s the way you come back from those things that shows what kind of man you are.”
Thomsen said practices for Tech have been “business as usual,” and Monday’s session was no different. On a day that had the feel of late summer, Doege likened Tech’s practice to an early fall workout, when players are still battling to impress coaches and fight for playing time.
“I thought it was a great first practice with guys competing,” the senior quarterback said. “I think part of it has to do with us being away from each other for five days. As much as we complain about football taking all our time, deep down we really love this game and we love being around each other. That was a big factor for us today. It was the first time we could be back out here and run around with each other.”
The Gophers, practicing about five miles away from the Red Raiders at St. Thomas High School, were especially appreciative of being able to practice on a warm, sun-drenched field the day before Christmas. Minnesota, after all, left behind temperatures that were nearing single digits.
“Being out here, with this weather, we got a lot done today,” said second-year Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, whose team went 6-6 and become bowl eligible one season after finishing 3-9. “We were able to practice our older kids, keep our younger kids afterwards, and we’re getting good work.”
Bowl games can often come down to which team can muster the required amount of motivation to bring its ‘A’ game after a significant layoff. The Red Raiders have the added challenge of preparing for a bowl game with an interim coach for the second time in four years.
The motivation for the Red Raiders? Righting the wrong of a promising season gone sour.
“We kind of ended on a bad note, and that’s not this football team,” Doege said. “That’s not how we worked in the offseason and over the summer. We want to send the seniors out on a good note and finish this the right way, the way it needs to be done.”
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