Team 134 takes the field for the last time on Saturday in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (ESPN, 10:15 p.m. ET). Even though it was a disappointing season for most, the Wolverines have the opportunity to go 1-0 against Kansas State and give their team a jump start for next season.
Here are five things to watch as Michigan takes the field one last time in 2013.
1. How will Shane Morris react? With Devin Gardner unavailable due to a left foot injury, the pressure and playmaking is on the true freshman. Morris has only appeared in four games and completed five passes this season, so he is far from tested. Kansas State defensive lineman Ryan Mueller was one of the best in the Big 12 and the Wildcats will likely send plenty of pressure after Morris in order to get him on his heels as early and often as possible. The start. The pressure. Kansas State. The stage. It’s a lot for any player, especially a true freshman who has yet to take a significant snap. It should be interesting to see his response.
2. Which offensive line shows up? Much of Morris’ productivity will be based off how the offensive line plays. So the question remains: Will it be the offensive line that played against Ohio State or the offensive line that played against Michigan State? Giving Morris time in the pocket is going to more important than ever and the O-line will need to play its best. If those five don’t play up to their potential, don’t expect too much production from Morris.
3. Can Michigan stop the Kansas State run game? This was where the Wolverines really struggled in the Ohio State game, allowing 393 rushing yards. Kansas State doesn’t quite have the combination of a Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller, but it still has been quite effective. Senior running back John Hubert accounted for 968 rushing yards this season, but most importantly, when he got 15 or more carries this season, the Wildcats went 6-1. If he gets going, it’s a very good sign for Kansas State. KSU also employs a dual-quarterback system and sophomore Daniel Sams is the running quarterback in the combo. In seven games this season he rushed the ball 10 or more times. In those seven games he averaged 94 yards per game and Kansas State was 5-2.
4. Keeping KSU contained on first down. The Wildcats average 6.95 yards on first downs this season. That puts Kansas State in favorable situations on second and third downs, which allows coach Bill Snyder to be relatively creative in his play calling. It also gives them ample opportunity to rush the ball (see No. 3). On top of that, because of how they put themselves in good situations early in series, the Wildcats convert 48 percent of their third downs.
5. The chip on the shoulder vs. the little dog mentality. Kansas State has a ton of respect for the Wolverines. Several players have been quoted as saying they grew up as fans or at least consistently watching the Wolverines and that they feel like they are playing a giant in the college football world. But don’t mistake that respect for anything other than that. Kansas State is coming into this game with the goal to send Michigan back to Ann Arbor with a 7-6 record (its worst since Rich Rodriguez’s third season). The Wildcats are coming in with a ton of positive momentum, which is the exact opposite of where Michigan is. The Wolverines lost five of their last seven and come in with a chip on their shoulders. They’re trying to prove that they’re better than this game, in a lot of respects, and they’re attempting to do it without their starting QB. Those are two very different places to come from and it should create a very interesting feel in this matchup.