Kansas State and Michigan are both looking to end their seasons on a high note after mediocre performances throughout the year. For things to change, however, they will need a few key players to step up their efforts.
The Wildcats had a balanced attack that led to success on both sides of the ball in 2013. The problem is that bad mistakes caused close losses in a 7-5 year. Meanwhile, the Wolverines also finished 7-5 thanks to four losses by a margin of four points or less.
Each side is better than its record indicates, but it will take a strong performance from specific players to come away with an eighth win.
Shane Morris, QB, Michigan
Michigan will have a hard time on the offensive end as starting quarterback Devin Gardner will not play in the game, according to Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports.
This puts the team in the hands of freshman Shane Morris, who has only appeared in two games all season. So far, he has completed five of his nine passes with no touchdowns and an interception.
The good news is that he is prepared for the opportunity. Offensive coordinator Al Borges discussed Morris' improvement, via the team's site:
We've had a lot of time to get him ready and take the No. 1 reps, which he's never done before. He's come along nicely. He's studied hard. He's really worked at it. It's showed up because he's improved a lot from the first day we started bowl practices to today, which is natural because he has had the reps.
He better be ready to play because Kansas State has a tough defense that will make him work. If the freshman fails to have composure in his first start, Michigan will struggle.
Derrick Green, RB, Michigan
While Derrick Green is also a freshman, he has had a lot more game experience than Morris. In 10 games, he has rushed for 265 yards with two touchdowns on 82 carries.
Senior Fitzgerald Toussaint is still officially the starter, but he has seen his role scaled back over the past month of the season. After averaging 22.1 carries in the first seven games of the year, he has averaged only seven in the past four.
Meanwhile, Green is up to 12.5 per game in the same time span.
The freshman has great size and speed, but he simply has not had a lot of room to run. Still, the Wolverines need him to come through in order to take the pressure off Morris in his first start.
Otherwise, Michigan will have a hard time moving the football at all.
Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State
Although Ryan Mueller ended the regular season tied for seventh in the nation with 11.5 sacks, Kansas State still needs more production out of its All-Big 12 defensive end.
Despite a huge start to the year, Mueller only had one sack in the final three games. He was shut out against Oklahoma, which in part led to the Wildcats allowing a season-high 41 points.
In the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, he will need to make sure he finds a way to get to the opposing quarterback and throw the freshman off his game.
Of course, he is not taking the opponent lightly. Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com quoted the junior:
Ryan Mueller on Shane Morris: He was a 5-star, I was a no-star, he's talented. ... We're going to play our game, maybe come after him a bit'— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) December 26, 2013
This focus is important, but he must make sure he gets into the backfield early and often against Michigan in order to keep the Wolverines off the scoreboard.
Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State
The junior quarterback has had an up-and-down season, but the past few weeks have been mostly down.
On the plus side, he has seven touchdown passes and 742 yards in the last three games. However, he also has four interceptions while completing only 50 percent of his passes.
This lack of accuracy has hurt the team all season as he has failed to help the Wildcats sustain long drives. Instead, the squad is relying on big plays, which is much more inconsistent.
In order for Kansas State to beat Michigan, it will need to move the ball down the field with regularity. This means that Waters has to improve his accuracy and decision-making going forward.
If he cannot, the Wildcats will be involved in a very low-scoring game between two struggling offenses.
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