Michigan Football: 5 Things We Need to See in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
It may not be on New Year's Day, but the Michigan football team will be playing in a bowl game this season. The Wolverines drew Kansas State of the Big 12 Conference for their opponent in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, which will take place on Dec. 28.
Both teams finished the regular season with 7-5 records and came up short against each of their marquee opponents.
Following its narrow defeat at the hands of Ohio State, there is finally something for Michigan fans to be optimistic about. The extra practices will give a young team much-needed time to grow up and develop. Once those practices are over, there are five things we need to see from the Wolverines on game day.
The Same Devin Gardner We Saw Against Ohio State
With Devin Gardner expected to return for one last season in 2014, the bowl matchup will serve as a chance for him to generate some positive momentum heading into the offseason. If Michigan fans get to see the same quarterback they saw against Ohio State, hopes will be high for next year.
Save for the interception when the Wolverines went for two, Gardner was nearly flawless. He went 32-of-45 for 451 yards and four touchdowns in the loss.
When he has time to throw, Gardner has proven he can be effective. As long as the offensive line is able to keep Kansas State's defensive line at bay and pick up blitzes better than it has for most of the season, the 6'4", 210-pounder could rack up another monster game.
Michigan needs him to shine and carry the load offensively for it to get a second bowl victory in three years.
Improvement Along the Offensive Line
The extra bowl practices should be more beneficial to the young offensive line than any other position group. All season long, Michigan has mixed up its starting five, which has probably created more problems than solutions. This will provide the Wolverines with an opportunity to get their interior linemen some confidence before the calendar is changed over to 2014.
Pass protection was much better against Ohio State. Run-blocking is still the biggest issue for this group. Outside of one 38-yard carry by De'Veon Smith, the Wolverines' running backs only managed to rush for 99 yards on 23 attempts versus the Buckeyes.
Kansas State boasts the nation's No. 38 rushing defense (145.3 yards per game), so this will be a fair chance to assess if Michigan has made any progress up front.
Hopefully, the Wolverines are able to open up some holes for Smith and Derrick Green to run through. Those two will be focal points in their offense next year. Getting them as many positive carries as possible will be a key to generating positive momentum for Team 135.
Redemption for the Front Seven
After giving up 393 yards on the ground in its season-ending loss to Ohio State, Michigan's front seven is in dire need of some redemption. Allowing James Ross III and Desmond Morgan time to recover from injuries will help the group. Unless the middle of the defensive line is stronger at the point of attack, though, it will be another rough outing.
True freshman Ben Gedeon shone in his first collegiate start, and sophomore Joe Bolden had a good day. Still, there is no substitute for experienced starters like Ross and Morgan.
In three of Kansas State's five losses this season, it has struggled to run the ball. The Wildcats had just 24 rushing yards against Oklahoma, 41 versus North Dakota State and 115 at Texas. A 3.8-yard-per-carry performance in a loss to Oklahoma State left plenty to be desired as well.
John Hubert is not a bruiser, but out in the open field, he is a tough matchup. Just ask the Kansas Jayhawks, who allows him to rush for 220 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Quarterbacks Jake Waters and Daniel Sams have both been productive running the ball, too.
Forcing Kansas State to win this game through the air will be one of the Wolverines' biggest keys to victory.
Turnovers have been a problem for Kansas State all season long. Michigan must take advantage of the gifts the Wildcats will inevitably give it in Tempe, Ariz.
Of the five losses Kansas State suffered this year, it turned the ball over at least twice in all but one. In a four-point loss to Oklahoma State, the Wildcats committed five turnovers. Overall, they rank No. 93 nationally with 24 giveaways.
The Wolverines' secondary should wind up being the biggest beneficiary of Kansas State's carelessness. Jake Waters has thrown two interceptions in three games, while Daniel Sams threw three against Oklahoma State.
Do not be surprised if points off of turnovers wind up being the most important statistic in the final box score of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Another Outstanding Game Plan by Al Borges
No fear. No more conservative game-planning. This is the mentality offensive coordinator Al Borges must have entering Michigan's postseason clash with Kansas State. It worked wonders for the Wolverines in The Game.
An offense that had been held under 200 yards in three of its four previous games broke out for 603 yards. Some of it had to do with a porous Ohio State defense. However, Borges deserves a lot of credit for keeping it off balance with well-timed screens and draws.
The offensive line showing signs of improvement would also be a positive for Borges heading into the 2014 campaign.
He is not exactly a fan favorite at the moment, but another solid day for the offense could start to bring some of the Maize and Blue faithful around.