On Thursday morning, the Phoenix Zoo set out two boxes with equal amounts of ground beef in each one in the Sumatran tiger habitat. On one box was the Michigan logo and on the other was the Kansas State logo. With a large crowd looking on, the tiger went straight to the K-State box and devoured the beef. Last year, she was 2-0 with his picks, so if her prediction prowess holds true, K-State should win. Let’s just hope Shane Morris isn’t as easily devoured by the Wildcat defensive line. Let’s take a look at our predictions:
Justin: Shane Morris makes his first career start against one of the nation’s best defensive ends, Ryan Mueller, who ranks in the top ten nationally in both sacks and tackles for loss. It will be up to Taylor Lewan, making his 48th and final start, to neutralize Mueller, and the rest of Michigan’s much-maligned offensive line to do the rest. Unfortunately, Kansas State’s defense is solid and that’s not good for a true freshman signal caller.
Defensively, Michigan will need to force turnovers and hold the Wildcats below their season average of 33 points. In five losses, K-State was held to an average of just 25 points. That’s about what it will take for Michigan to have a chance. But the Wildcats have a good running back, John Hubert, and a very good receiver, Tyler Lockett, as well as a two-headed monster at quarterback, both of which are capable runners. That’s enough to keep Michigan’s defense off balance.
Expect a close game, but K-State will be too much down the stretch.
Kansas State 33 – Michigan 27
Chris: Kansas State 30 – Michigan 21
Josh: Please see yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full breakdown.
Michigan 38 – Kansas State 24
Sam: With the recent news that Devin Gardner broke his foot playing against Ohio State and will not play against Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Michigan will be the underdog once again come Saturday night.
Michigan’s run game, which has struggled mightily for large portions of this season, will be the focus of a Kansas State defense that gives up just 23.7 points per game, and if the Wolverines are to have any chance, true freshman quarterback and first-time starter Shane Morris will need to live up to his recruiting projections quickly. I think running back Derrick Green will be able to find some holes to run behind after Michigan has had nearly a month to prepare for their Big 12 foe, but his increased production will probably be evened out by a less dynamic passing attack.
As in most bowl games, expect to see some trickery thrown in. Michigan will continue to run play action often, especially in this game, but they should also be playing without fear and trying plenty of new stuff. Kansas State could run away with it, but turnovers could also be a calling card for the Maize and Blue. A plus-two turnover margin or better and the Wolverines should find a way to stay in it til the very end.
Either way, I simply think Michigan’s inexperience at the quarterback position will prove too much to overcome. I’ll take the Wildcats.
Kansas State 31 – Michigan 17
Derick: With Shane Morris at the helm of the Michigan offense, who knows how the team will look. Morris has sat out basically two years of football after missing most of his high school senior season with mono. His return will be on the biggest stage of his life.
Michigan is also headed in the opposite direction as Kansas State, who finished the year winning five of six while the Wolverines dropped five of seven.
The outstanding effort against Ohio State has put Michigan fans back in a hopeful frame of mind, but beating a hot team with a true freshman quarterback is a tall order.
Kansas State 28 – Michigan 21
Katie: Call me crazy, but I’m looking forward to watching Shane Morris at the helm of the Michigan offense. Devin Gardner played so well against Ohio State, it’s true. But that does not erase the mistakes and fumbling around that was most of the season (and I do realize that the O-line was a terrible liability, and made Gardner’s job much more difficult). Morris had little to no playing time this season because the Wolverines couldn’t close out a game with enough time to put in a backup. Well, he’s got his chance now.
As for how he’ll do. I’m hopeful. Am I expecting a win? No. And after coming so close to beating the Buckeyes a win at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl isn’t all that appealing. Yes, I want to win. However, I would rather give the kid a shot and have a more seasoned backup for next year.
All in all, if Michigan can play a game like the last one, they’ll come away with a win. If Morris looks like a deer in the headlights, it’s likely that the Maize and Blue will end up a disappointing 7-6. The only question is what team will show up? The one that played OSU to within a point, or the one that nearly lost to Akron.
Kansas State 31 – Michigan 21
Drew: The main headline entering tomorrow’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is that starting quarterback Devin Gardner will be unable to play with a broken left foot. This is absolutely devastating news for the Wolverines. Gardner has been the target of many U-M fans’ criticism this season—some of it deserved, most of it not. Those fans would be foolish not to realize that he has been the catalyst for the Wolverines’ offense.
Gardner had one of the best statistical seasons in program history. His 3,443 total yards are the second-most by a Wolverine, trailing only Denard Robinson’s 4,272 in 2010. His 2,960 passing yards also are the second-best, trailing only John Navarre’s 3,331 in 2003. Gardner also accounted for 32 total touchdowns and 21 passing touchdowns, tied for second-most and sixth-most in school history, respectively. Very few backups, if any, can replace the production U-M will miss with Gardner’s absence.
Enter: true freshman Shane Morris. Morris will be the sixth true freshman to start at quarterback in Michigan history. Morris may be inexperienced, attempting only nine passes this season, but he has the potential to be a star. Recruiting services considered Morris a Top 100 recruit in the 2013 class. The question will be if Morris can show that promise tomorrow.
The good news for Morris is precedent. Michigan is 4-1 when one of its true freshmen makes his first career start at quarterback, 3-0 in such situations since 2004. Further, in the past decade, not only did U-M win those games, those three true freshmen played very well, throwing for a total of 411 yards, eight touchdowns, and only one interception.
The bad news for Morris is that he likely will have little help, which the previous three true freshman starters had. Michigan’s rushing offense is ranked #100 out of 123 NCAA FBS teams, averaging only 130.8 yards per game. And that includes the 40.2 rushing yards that Gardner averaged each game. Also, U-M’s offensive line has allowed more tackles-for-loss than any other FBS team. A poor rushing attack and a leaky offensive line? Not the situation a head coach wants to throw his true freshman quarterback into.
Ultimately, to win tomorrow against a Kansas State squad that has won five of its past six games, Michigan will need Morris to carry most of the load by himself. Morris will show flashes of the potential that made him an elite high-school recruit. But it will not be enough. Michigan’s defense will keep it competitive throughout before the Wildcats put it away with a late fourth-quarter touchdown, dropping U-M’s bowl record to 20-23.
Kansas State 27 – Michigan 17
For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Kansas State game preview; a First Look at Kansas State; the Kansas State edition of Friend vs Foe with John Morse of the K-State blog Bring on the Cats; and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Drew (@DrewCHallett) detailed Michigan’s custom of January bowl games and why the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is rare territory for the Wolverines.
Finally, I did a story for BTN Live B1G on the clothing company run by former Michigan basketball player David Merritt and the good cause it is helping fund. Check it out and consider purchasing some merchandise to help support underserved youth.