Michigan Wolverines vs. Kansas State Wildcats: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Preview

Phil Callihan@umgoblogContributor IDecember 25, 2013

Michigan Wolverines vs. Kansas State Wildcats: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Preview

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    All eyes will be on Shane Morris
    All eyes will be on Shane MorrisUMGoBlue.COM/Dell Callihan

    Michigan (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten Conference) will play Kansas State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12 Conference) in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl—previously known as the Copper Bowl or the Insight.com Bowl. 

    Michigan began the season 5-0 before slumping to finish 7-5.

    After starting the season 2-4, Kansas State (7-5 overall, 5-3 Big 12) won five of its final six games to qualify for its 17th bowl game in program history and the 15th under the guidance of head coach Bill Snyder. The Wildcats became just the fourth Big 12 team ever to become bowl eligible after starting the season 2-4.

    Last year Michigan lost to South Carolina, 33-28, in the Outback Bowl, while Kansas State has lost its last five bowl games.

    Date: Dec. 28, 2013

    Time: 10:15 p.m. ET

    Place: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

    Series vs. Kansas State: Michigan has never played Kansas State.

    Television: ESPN

    Spread: Michigan (+5), via TheSpread.com

    Michigan's Last Game: Michigan fell to rival Ohio State, 42-41.

    Information according to University of Michigan Wolverine game notes

Video Preview

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    With Devin Gardner unlikely to play, freshman Shane Morris will lead Michigan versus Kansas State. Here's a look back at his high school highlights prior to becoming a Wolverine.

Michigan Keys to Victory

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    Gardner took a beating all season and is most likely out for the bowl game
    Gardner took a beating all season and is most likely out for the bowl gameMike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

    The injury to quarterback Devin Gardner puts Michigan’s prospects for this game in serious jeopardy. Gardner, suffering from turf toe, hasn’t practiced since the week of the Ohio State game. Add to the mix offensive lineman Taylor Lewan being investigated for a possible assault stemming from an incident after Michigan’s last game, as reported by the Ann Arbor News' Kyle Feldscher, and Brady Hoke’s team has had to contend with major distractions while preparing for a scrappy Kansas State team.

    Michigan really doesn’t want to be here. After entering the final month of the season with sights set on the Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is a disappointment. Former coach Rich Rodriguez took Michigan to New Year’s Day bowl game (Gator) in his third season and was fired by athletic director David Brandon.

    Despite Michigan’s November collapse, Brandon has publicly endorsed Hoke, but make no mistake: Next season begins now. Hoke and his coaching staff are under intense scrutiny by a fanbase dismayed by the success of arch rival Ohio State and Big Ten Champion Michigan State.

    With Gardner ailing, Michigan needs a big performance from backup Shane Morris. An embarrassing loss could damage future recruiting and add to the discontent in Ann Arbor. 

    Dominate the game, be Michigan

    Michigan showed that it has the talent to play with the top teams in the nation, but only when its offensive line steps up. In a blowout loss against Michigan State the offensive line was shredded; versus Ohio State the offensive line played better and Michigan nearly won.

    Michigan needs to dominate with its superior talent. No sleepwalking or daydreaming about what could have been—early season scares versus Akron and UConn have shown that Michigan can play down to anyone.

    The offensive line showed signs of life versus Ohio State—further improvement could give Morris the time he needs to succeed.

    Pressure the Kansas State Offense

    The Kansas State offense got on roll, winning five out of its last six games and averaging 37 points scored per game. Michigan can’t get into a shootout with Kansas State—it needs to put the pressure on early and never let up.

Kansas State Keys to Victory

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    John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

    Go after Shane Morris

    Look for Kansas State to send the dogs after Shane Morris. If he gets rattled, Michigan will be in serious trouble. The Michigan running game with Fitzgerald Toussaint, Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith will need to get things going on the ground until he finds his groove. Kansas State needs to keep that from happening.

    Run the ball up the gut

    Ohio State showed that the Michigan defense is vulnerable up the middle. Kansas State needs to take advantage of inexperience on the Michigan defensive front to run the ball.

    Don’t be happy just to be here

    Kansas State began the season 2-4, before rallying to become bowl eligible. The team has a chance to make a statement versus an underachieving Michigan team. With Gardner out the pressure is on to hammer the Wolverines early and knock them out of the game.

Michigan Players to Watch

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    No. 27 Derrick Green
    No. 27 Derrick GreenRick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Quarterback Shane Morris

    Morris has been getting all the snaps in practice, but game speed is different. If Morris can avoid mistakes and hit just enough passes to keep Kansas State from loading the box to stifle the run, Michigan has a good chance to get the offense moving.

    Running back Derrick Green

    When Green began getting substantial carries late in the season, the Michigan offense started to get on track. With Senior Fitzgerald Toussaint graduating, Green is the key to Michigan turning things around next season.

    Linebacker Jake Ryan

    Jake Ryan missed the first half of the season but made his presence known with big plays when he returned. Expect him to have a major effect on this game.

Kansas State Players to Watch

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    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    Wide Receiver Tyler Lockett

    Lockett was named Big 12 first team and caught 71 passes for 1,146 yards and eight touchdowns. He led the Big 12 in all purpose yards(151.4 per game), while ranking second in receiving yards (104.2 per game) and third in receptions (6.5 per game). The Michigan secondary has been susceptible to the passing attack; Lockett could be in line for a big game versus the Wolverines.

    Offensive lineman B.J. Finney and Cornelius Lucas

    Ohio State ran through the middle of the Michigan defense for big yardage. All-Conference Second Team lineman Finney and Lucas will need to pave the way for the Kansas State running attack for the Wildcats to win this game.

    Defensivee End Ryan Mueller

    The Michigan offensive line will have its hands full with Mueller who ranks first in the Big 12 with 18.5 tackles for loss and second in the league with 11.5 sacks. His 11.5 sacks are tied for the school record with, and he ranks ninth in school history in tackles for loss. He also needs just a half sack to appear on the Big 12's single-season top-10 list.

What They Are Saying

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, via the mlive.com:

    I would think, if anything, Shane [Morris] would start the game and then we'd go from there.


    Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, via the Detroit News:

    It’s been a disappointing season in some way, because we’ve lost a number of games by very close scores. But playing one last game gives us an opportunity to do what we have to do.

    Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, via the Detroit News:

    We’re very excited about our football team. We feel very strongly the young men we recruited in the two or three years are the right young men, and now it’s getting experience. You can’t put a price tag on these 15 more practices where you can become a smarter football player

    Kansas State linebacker Jonathan Truman, via the Kansas City Star:

    Nobody on our team has won a bowl game, with the exception of the coaches. We need it. We want it really bad. 

    Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder, via the Kansas City Star:

    We are honored and proud to be selected for the bowl game. We’ve had so many opportunities to be in Phoenix and the surrounding areas for this bowl game and the Fiesta Bowl as well.

    Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder, via the Kansas City Star:

    I just admire what they’ve meant to college football and the kind of program that they have — a very first-class program.


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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    The Michigan offensive line jells, allowing the running game to get on track while the defense does just enough to beat the Wildcats. Morris leads Michigan to a narrow victory and the debate about who should be the starting quarterback next season rages all winter long.

    Prediction: Michigan 31 Kansas State 28.