No. 25 Razorbacks await Gophers in Music City Bowl

Brian Stensaas

Cross the “Ts” and dot the “Is.” After more than two weeks of speculation, Minnesota football’s postseason bowl picture is finally in focus.

Arkansas officially accepted a bid from the Music City Bowl on Sunday and will play Minnesota on Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tenn. It will be the first-ever meeting between the two teams and the Gophers’ first opponent from the SEC since losing to Tennessee in the 1986 Liberty Bowl.

Game tapes from each team were sent to the other shortly after the match-up became official Sunday. Minnesota assistant head coach Moe Ankney is eager to take a look.

“These are two teams that don’t know a whole lot about each other,” he said. “The SEC plays good football but so does the Big Ten so it will be interesting. They’re really good and I hope we’re able to make a game out of it.”

The 25th-ranked Razorbacks (9-4, 5-3 SEC) will limp into Nashville, the victims of a 30-3 shelling at the hands of No. 4 Georgia in the SEC championship game last Saturday.

Leading the SEC in rushing with an average of 243.3 yards per game heading into the contest, the SEC West champion Hogs were limited to 65 against the Bulldogs.

“We’re thrilled to be in a bowl, especially after how we played Saturday,” Arkansas quarterbacks coach David Lee said. “We were embarrassed and just grateful to have the opportunity to play.

“Big Ten teams are physical and we have respect for Minnesota. We know we’ve jumped on a buzz saw here. It’s going to be tough.”

In reality, the ones doing the sawing in recent games have been rushing offenses on the Gophers’ defense.

In the last four games – all losses – Minnesota (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) has allowed an average of 303 yards on the ground. Prior to that point, the Gophers were only allowing 125.8 yards rushing per game.

Tailback Fred Talley leads the Razorbacks, averaging 83.5 yards per game this season. The 5-foot-9, 188-pound senior has speed, competing in track and field during the offseason. He teams up well with mobile quarterback Matt Jones, who not only passed for 1,473 yards but ran for another 600 yards this season.

No doubt one of Minnesota’s main focuses will be to stop the duo on the ground after a less-than-stellar end to the regular season.

“We’d like to end on a positive note,” Ankney said. “We finished losing and they won six straight before running into Georgia so we’ll have to wait and see.”

This will be Minnesota’s third bowl in four years under sixth-year head coach Glen Mason – a school record. The Gophers are 0-2 in the postseason under Mason.

The game also marks the Hogs’ fifth-straight postseason appearance under fifth-year coach Houston Nutt.

Brian Stensaas covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]