Michigan reporter Chantel Jennings and Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter break down the biggest storylines in Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl matchup featuring Michigan and Kansas State:
Motivation can be a big advantage in bowl games. Who will be the more motivated team?
Chantel Jennings: I generally believe that the best motivation is brought from the team with the better positive momentum, which in this case would be Kansas State. The Wildcats won five of their last six and their one loss was a ten-point loss to Oklahoma. Michigan, on the other hand, lost five of its last seven and are going into this game with an untested quarterback, a young running back, an offensive line that really only showed up for a few games and a defense that is coming off its worst performance of the year. I think there’s definitely something to be said for the “chip on the shoulder” mentality, but in a game like this, I like the team that comes in with the most positive momentum.
Jake Trotter: I have no idea how much Michigan cares about this game. Kansas State isn’t a name program in the sense Oklahoma or Texas is, and the Wolverines had their sights set way higher than the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl before the season. But I’m fairly confident Kansas State cares. The Wildcats have lost five straight bowl games dating back 11 years, and have openly discussed how important getting a bowl win for coach Bill Snyder would be here. Michigan is also an easy team to get up for. Combine those two, and I would expect Kansas State to come out motivated with plenty of energy.
How big an impact will Michigan QB Devin Gardner's injury have on this game?
Jennings: It’ll be huge. When the team was still in Ann Arbor, offensive coordinator Al Borges said that they had to slim the playbook a bit for Shane Morris but not too much. From a certain standpoint, that might be true. Maybe Borges can call a similar game with Morris, but the biggest difference will be the playmaking ability. Gardner had the presence of mind in situations when his feet starting moving. He could make plays himself after they broke down elsewhere. Morris hasn’t ever had to do that. That’s going to change the game hugely. With Kansas State knowing that the Wolverines have an O-line that hasn’t done much and a QB that hasn’t done much, why not throw the kitchen sink at them?
Trotter: Any time you lose your starting quarterback, it’s big. It’s especially critical here because of how well Gardner played in the shootout loss to Ohio State. Morris is talented, but the fact is, he’s a true freshman with only nine career pass attempts. The Wildcats have been erratic at times defensively, but with safety Ty Zimmerman likely back from injury, they will be emboldened to bring more pressure. Given how explosive the K-State offense was down the stretch, Michigan will probably have to score a bunch to win this game. That will be difficult with a rookie quarterback who could find himself under duress.
The key player in this game will be?
Jennings: Kansas State defensive lineman Ryan Mueller. If he can get to Morris and rattle him early in the game, Mueller could change the entire feel of the game. A tentative, second-guessing Morris will be one that the Kansas State D can take advantage of. And with the pass rushing abilities of Mueller, he has the chance to put Morris (and by extension, the Michigan offense) on his heels.
Trotter: All eyes will be on Morris. Because of his big arm, Morris is capable of big plays. But because of his inexperience, will the lefty be prone to big turnovers, too? Turning the ball over against Bill Snyder-coached teams is usually a recipe for a disaster. As a four-star recruit in Michigan’s most recent signing class, Morris definitely has the talent to beat K-State. But will he have the composure? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.