It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No I don’t mean the holiday season, I mean Bowl Season! This year, the Wildcats venture back to Tempe, Arizona to challenge the Michigan Wolverines in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Both teams enter 7-5 for the season, eager to meet for the first time in school history. Who are the Michigan Wolverines and what threat do they pose for the Kansas State Wildcats? What are the key matchups to watch for? What exactly is the best flavor of wings at Buffalo Wild Wings? All these answered and many more in this installment of a Summers View. (By the way, there is no wrong answer to best wings at BWW, my favorite happens to be Salt & Vinegar Boneless.)
While Kansas State started off slow and finished off hot, the Michigan Wolverine did the exact opposite. After starting the season 5-0, the Wolverines limped to the finish line, losing 5 out of the next 7. The Wolverines’ offense revolved around QB Devin Gardner, who passed for 2,960 yards, 21 TD’s and 11 Interceptions (246.7 yards passing average), while adding 483 yards rushing with 11 TD’s on the ground (40.2 yards rushing average). Containing Gardner will be a key in the game, as Gardner has a good receiving core led by Jeremy Gallon (80 catches, 1,284 yards with 9 touchdowns) who is averaging 107 yards receiving per game. Devin Funchess (47 catches, 727 yards and 6 TDs) added a secondary option to Gardner, as the sophomore receiver averaged 60.6 yards receiving per game. The ground game was controlled by Gardner and leading rusher Fitzgerald Toussaint, the senior tailback that raked up 646 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. The Michigan offense averaged 33.8 points per game this past season, just barely above Kansas State’s average of 33.4. But one thing that hasn’t been pointed out quite yet is quarterback Gardner is nursing a turf toe injury, one that has held him out of practice since the Ohio State game. If he is unable to go, freshmen Shane Morris would be asked to take the helm. Morris, the number 8 ranked QB in the 2013 recruiting class, saw very limited action in the season. Morris, in spare playing time, only completed 5 passes for 65 yards while throwing 1 interception. The dynamic of the matchup could change if Gardner is unavailable. Michigan coach, Brady Hoke, stated earlier in the week, that he hoped Gardner would practice Monday, the team’s first day in Arizona for Bowl Week. Hoke also stressed his faith that Morris would be more than capable to handle the offense in Gardner’s absence if needed. This situation will prove to be very vital to the Wildcats game plan.
Coach Snyder, who has had a run of bad luck in bowl games, (last Bowl victory, Holiday Bowl over Arizona State in 2002) hopes to end the season on a good note. The Wildcats, after spending most of the season on the negative side of the turnover margin, finished the season at 0. Turning the ball over and forcing turnovers will be key to this match up, especially if Morris starts. Enter Ryan Mueller and Ty Zimmerman to my equation. If you’ve followed my blog, you may understand I appreciate what Mueller brings to the table. Mueller needs to do his thing and disrupt the line of scrimmage, causing timing issues for whomever quarterback may play. If Gardner does play, Mueller must balance between rushing and spying on the quarterback, as Gardner is dangerous in both ways. With Zimmerman, will the senior leader be available to play against the Wolverines? His leadership and control of the defense was sorely missed against the Oklahoma Sooners. His ball hawking ability will also be needed to either force a fumble, intercept a pass, or support in the run game will be key. It would also be nice to send him out a winner.
The final match up I wanted to touch upon is the Wildcat’s offense attack against the Wolverines defense. Kansas State offense attack, be it by air or by land, should create some problems for the Wolverines. Michigan allowed on average 395.6 yards per game, while the Wildcats average was 401.2. Almost right on pace, as the Cats offense has shown it can put up big numbers and the Wolverines defense gave up many big plays towards the end of the season. Enter Tyler Lockett, maybe the best big play option in the Big 12 (no bias here folks). The All-Big 12 receiver should be able to generate big plays in the passing game, and if the Wolverines look to roll coverage towards Lockett, expect Jake Waters to find Tramaine Thompson in single coverage. We know how that could end. I expect a great game against the Michigan Wolverines, and do believe the Cats will prevail. Here’s to a great holiday week and a Wildcat Victory!