Two 7-5 teams will look to end their year on a high note as Michigan takes on Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. In order to get that final win, it will take a lot of strategy from each side.
The two squads in this game each took different paths to get here. The Wildcats got off to an awful start to the year and were 2-4 after six games. However, an easier schedule and more confidence led to them winning five of their last six.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines had a much harder time in the Big Ten after starting 5-0. They lost four of their last five games and will have to compete in the bowl game without starting quarterback Devin Gardner, who is out with a broken foot.
Still, either team is capable of coming out with a victory in this competitive game. It all depends on which team does a better job following these keys.
Simplify the Playbook
With Gardner out, freshman quarterback Shane Morris will get his chance to run the offense. When asked whether this will cause changes to the game plan, offensive coordinator Al Borges said, via Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:
Yes. As it becomes more apparent that he could be starting, we have to be very judicious about how we go about repping him in terms of what plays to run, the ones he knows the best and understands the best. So we’re at that point now.
This is a smart move, since it does not make sense to use plays that will not work. Without much game experience, the coaching staff has to figure out what their player does well and then put him in position to succeed.
Additionally, Morris should see a number of plays where he only has one or two options while the rest of his teammates stay in and block.
Although this will not create the most dynamic offense, it will limit mistakes while giving Michigan a chance to win. That is about all you can hope for out of the young player in this one.
Cover Tyler Lockett
Although Kansas State has a number of talented players on offense, few of them can hurt you quite like Tyler Lockett.
The 5'11" receiver has a big-time playmaking ability and the speed to score from almost anywhere on the field. He topped 100 yards six different times this season, including two games of over 200 receiving yards. His 1,146 receiving yards ranks 19th in the country.
However, he also had a few poor showings this year when opposing teams made sure to focus on stopping the junior. When that happens, the Wildcats do not have anyone else to step up in the receiving game.
Lockett has more than twice as many receiving yards as anyone else on the team.
As a result, Michigan has to double and triple team the player on offense. On special teams, the squad has to make sure it kicks away from him. The Wolverines have to force someone else to beat them in this game.
Put Pressure on the Quarterback
When facing a young quarterback, the last thing you want to do is make him comfortable. This means Kansas State must be aggressive on the defensive side of the ball to put pressure on Morris throughout the game.
Defensive end Ryan Mueller is the team leader in this area, ranking among the best in the country with 11.5 sacks this season. However, he only has one in his last three games and few of his teammates have picked up the slack.
This means the Wildcats have to be creative in this game while finding a way to attack the quarterback, including various blitzes from linebackers and defensive backs.
Even if the players are unable to rack up sacks, simply getting into the backfield could lead Morris to make mistakes and possibly force turnovers. Without much to worry about over the top, an aggressive style is the best option to stop the Wolverines offense.
Establish the Run
Running back John Hubert has topped 900 rushing yards in three straight seasons and is looking for his first 1,000-yard season in 2013. As D. Scott Fritchen of Rivals.com notes, the senior believes he can do it:
John Hubert on getting close to 1,000 rushing yards: "I won't keep track of it. If I can't get 32 yards, something is wrong with me."— D. Scott Fritchen (@DScottFritchen) December 27, 2013
However, this will not be as simple as it sounds, especially considering Kansas State's knack for abandoning the run early in big games.
In fact, Hubert has failed to rush for more than 32 yards in four different games this year. While backup quarterback Daniel Sams has also provided plenty of production on the ground this season, he also has been limited in recent weeks.
Still, each player has proven to be dominant forces when they get a chance to shine. Allowing them to run the ball will not only move the chains, but it will also help the team control the clock and the game.
Even though Michigan has a solid run defense that ranks 28th in yards allowed per game, Kansas State cannot give up on running the football as long as the score remains close.
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