Kansas State 31, Michigan 14

Tag: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

29Dec 2013
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Kansas State 31, Michigan 14

Quarterback Shane Morris got his first career start and did a solid job.

Shane Morris looked halfway decent. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always had pretty high hopes for Morris. But I expected him to look a little more high-strung in this game. Offensive coordinator Al Borges did a smart thing by starting Morris off with a bunch of screen passes. Unfortunately, by the time Borges thought about pushing the ball down the field, it was because Michigan was down and Kansas State knew it. One point about screens is that you want to suck the defense up and eventually throw over the top, but Borges wasted the opportunity. Morris finished the game 24/38 for 196 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception, plus he had 4 carries for 43 yards. You could tell his timing just wasn’t there with the receivers and the offense. Some of his throws were late, some screens were slightly off target, and some of his passes were thrown too hard to give his receivers much of a chance to catch them. All in all, he played well enough that Michigan might have been able to eke out a win if they had semblance of a running game.

No semblance of a running game. Oh, yeah. About that. Well, despite what I think is a mediocre group of interior defenders, Michigan couldn’t get any push up front. The young offensive linemen weren’t whiffing on blocks like they were early in the season, but the Kansas State defensive tackles were controlling the line of scrimmage and letting the linebackers and safeties clean up. Michigan’s coaching staff seemed to realize their struggles up front, and despite having a fair amount of success with the fake bubble screen draw in the previous couple games, the play was basically abandoned for a couple straight-up inside zones and a bunch of reverses, sweeps, touch passes, etc.

Rich Rodriguez stopped by to coach the defense. I like defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, and since I’m not an idiot, I don’t think Mattison should be fired. But I thought this was a pretty dismal effort for what is actually a solid defense. The players just didn’t seem inspired to dominate, and the game plan was poor. The guy you must  stop on Kansas State’s offense is Tyler Lockett, and he abused Raymon Taylor time and time again (plus Blake Countess at least once). When he was singled up early in the game, I saw the formation and said “Slant.” And there it was. When he was singled up later on the same drive, I saw the formation with Raymon Taylor lined up inside and said “Slant and out.” Sure enough, Lockett beat Taylor by faking the slant and then beating Taylor with an out route. Lockett needed to be bracketed, and the corners needed safety help over the top. Elsewhere, guys like Cam Gordon were losing contain on the passing quarterback, as if they didn’t know he could run a little bit. When I was watching film leading up to the bowl game, I saw Kansas State as a mediocre power running team with one good receiver, and they were still able to impose their will on Michigan.

Tyler Lockett is good. After seeing Lockett’s highlights from the other twelve games and then watching him in this one, I think Lockett (10 catches, 116 yards, 3 touchdowns; 2 kickoff returns for 74 yards) could play for any team in the country. It was frustrating to watch him beat a fairly good duo of corners in Taylor and Countess, but you have to tip your cap to a player like that. Lockett’s going to get his yards, but you can’t let the other players beat you. Unfortunately, running back John Hubert (15 carries, 80 yards, 1 touchdown), quarterback Jake Waters (21/27 for 271 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air, plus 12 carries for 42 yards), and the defense beat Michigan, too.

Ryan Mueller is just a guy. I mentioned this before the game, but I was not impressed with what I saw from Mueller on film. The Big 12’s Defensive Lineman of the Year had just 1 tackle against Michigan despite playing against the Wolverines’ second-best offensive tackle and chasing a freshman quarterback.

The running back situation. Redshirt sophomore Justice Hayes earned the nod at running back and turned in a nondescript performance. He caught 3 passes for 22 yards and had 1 carry for -1 yard, the latter of which seemed to be him just tripping and falling to the turf of his own volition. I believe Michigan’s game plan involved trying to get the edge against a team that the coaching staff felt was too stout up the middle for the interior offensive line to handle. Unfortunately, Michigan has mainly recruited inside runners during Hoke’s tenure (Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith, Thomas Rawls). Without a good tailback option, Borges tried to hit Gallon on jet sweeps and reverses, Devin Funchess on a double reverse, etc. When your pocket passer of a quarterback leads the team in rushing, and your running backs combine for 8 carries and 13 yards, that’s a terrible recipe for success. It didn’t matter whether it was Hayes, Green, Smith, Rawls, or Toussaint running behind that line, though – there was just nowhere to go.

No hurry-up offense. Michigan didn’t really go to a hurry-up offense until their final drive, which was extremely frustrating. Would it have made a difference in the final outcome? Probably not. But it seemed like Borges and head coach Brady Hoke had basically decided to give up and try to develop the kids for next year. Maybe they just didn’t feel their freshman quarterback could handle running a two-minute drill for such an extended period, but at least give it a shot. Even if you chuck the ball deep and it gets intercepted, at least you tried. The only play where Michigan truly attempted to go over the top was on a pass to Jeremy Gallon where he got interfered with after it seemed like Morris and the receivers thought they had a free play when a Kansas State player jumped (he didn’t cross the line of scrimmage). When your quarterback is known for his cannon arm, you would think at least three attempts downfield would be warranted.

Head(s) should roll. Hoke and athletic director David Brandon need to make some tough decisions this offseason, and at least one staff change needs to take place. Hoke is a loyal guy, but I think Brandon will insist because he’s a business-oriented guy and needs to make donors happy. Running backs coach Fred Jackson isn’t the problem, but he might retire whether he’s asked to or not. Offensive line coach Darrell Funk would seem to be the easiest guy to axe, because his position group was the worst on the team. Offensive coordinator Al Borges does things like score 41 points against Ohio State and call plays that result in record-setting performances (Gallon’s game against Indiana, Gallon’s season receiving record, Gardner’s statistics against Ohio State and Indiana, etc.), so he’s a tougher choice. I also think a guy like wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski might be miffed if he gets passed up for a new offensive coordinator. Rumors are that secondary coach Curt Mallory has been looking for a head coaching job at a smaller school, too. There could be a lot of staff upheaval in the coming months.

Congratulations to Jeremy Gallon. Gallon surpassed former Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards for two records in this game. Gallon caught a pass in 39 consecutive games (Edwards was at 38), and he also set the single-season receiving yardage record with 1,373 yards (Edwards had 1,330 in 2004). He had 9 catches for 89 yards in this game, 1 carry for -5 yards, and a pass to Justice Hayes for a two-point conversion, hearkening back to his high school days as a single-wing quarterback at Apopka High School.

28Dec 2013
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Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Preview: Final Thoughts

I have completed in-depth previews of each of the position comparisons over the past couple weeks, and they’re more exhaustive than anything else I’ve read in the blogosphere. I had hoped to do some play breakdowns, but the holidays and traveling got in the way. Here are the links to each section:

Running backs
Wide receivers and tight ends
Offensive line
Defensive line
Defensive backs
Special teams

The most significant injury news (and a change from the above preview) is that Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner will miss the bowl game with a broken foot, which he suffered in the Ohio State game. His replacement will be true freshman Shane Morris, who is 5/9 for 65 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception in very limited time this year. Obviously, this will be his first start. Morris came out of high school with a big arm, but he’s not the most polished quarterback to come out of high school. He tends to stare down his receivers, and his accuracy has been questioned. In high school – even in 7-on-7 tournaments – the lefty seemed to throw almost exclusively to his left. I would expect Kansas State defensive coordinator Tom Hayes to blitz Morris endlessly, considering he’s just a pup and, oh by the way, Michigan’s offensive line has struggled mightily this year. That’s a bad combination if you’re a Wolverines fan.

In other injury news, Kansas State will get perhaps their best player back in the form of safety Ty Zimmerman. He was listed as questionable for the bowl game after missing the final two regular season games.


  • Kansas State has no players from the state of Michigan.
  • Linebackers coach Mike Cox is named Mike Cox(!). Also, he spent four years as Michigan State’s linebackers coach (2003-2006).
  • Head coach Bill Snyder’s son is special teams coach and associate head coach Sean Snyder. Sean Snyder’s son (and thus Bill’s grandson) is redshirt junior walk-on linebacker Tate Snyder. Tate doesn’t play much, but it’s still pretty cool to have three generations of Snyders on one team.
Michigan and Kansas State have never faced each other in football.

  • Kansas State blitzes Shane Morris non-stop to end up with 4 sacks. It would be more, but Morris gets antsy and chucks the ball in the air to be intercepted 3 times.
  • Michigan’s competency in the running game continues to improve after the bowl practices and against a mediocre group of interior defenders for the Wildcats. The running backs combine for 28 carries, 160 yards, and 2 touchdowns.
  • The Wolverines’ defense starts to wear out in the fourth quarter, allowing KSU quarterback Daniel Sams to power the ball down the field.
  • I would have predicted a Michigan win with Gardner playing, but . . . 
  • Kansas State 24, Michigan 17
27Dec 2013
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Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Preview: Special Teams

Kansas State returner Tramaine Thompson is dangerous with the ball in his hands.

Starters: The Wolverines are in pretty bad shape when it comes to special teams, but it could be worse. Fifth year senior placekicker Brendan Gibbons has been ruled out of the bowl game with a groin injury, and senior punter Will Hagerup has been suspended for the entire season, so all the kicking duties will be up to junior Matt Wile (6’2″, 216 lbs.). Wile is pretty experienced for being a backup punter and kicker, but when it comes to kicking field goals, he hasn’t been in many pressure situations. Wile is 1/3 on field goals this year, 5/5 on extra points, and averages 40.6 yards/punt. He’s been the kickoff guy all year and gets a 49.3% touchback rate. Sophomore Dennis Norfleet (5’7″, 169 lbs.) has 36 kickoff returns for 850 yards and a 23.6-yard average. Fifth year senior Jeremy Gallon (5’8″, 184 lbs.) and senior Drew Dileo (5’10”, 180 lbs.) have combined for 12 punt returns and 76 yards, so they’re not much of a threat.
Backups: Redshirt freshman Kenny Allen (6’3″, 226 lbs.) will be the backup kicker and punter, and he has 1 punt this year for 51 yards. Dileo has averaged 19.2 yards on 5 returns, and redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson (6’3″, 196 lbs.) has averaged 18 yards on 2 returns.

Starters: The Wildcats have two excellent returners. One is fifth year senior punt returner Tramaine Thompson (5’8″, 167 lbs.), who has averaged 20.2 yards/return this year with a long of 79 yards; teams respect him so much that they’ve only given him a chance to return 9 punts. Junior Tyler Lockett (5’11”, 175 lbs.) is the kick returner with a 25.5-yard average, and while he hasn’t yet returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 2013, he had 2 scores in each of the past two seasons. Redshirt junior Mark Krause (5’11”, 218 lbs.) averages 41.3 yards/punt and has landed 17 inside the 20-yard line. Redshirt sophomore Jack Cantele (6’0″, 193 lbs.) is 11/13 on field goals and 40/41 on extra points, but he was injured prior to KSU’s final regular season game and may not be back for the bowl game.
Backups: Thompson has returned 2 kickoffs this year, but one was for a 96-yard touchdown. Backup kicker Ian Patterson (5’11”, 233 lbs.), a redshirt freshman, is 2/3 on field goals and 8/8 on extra points; he has also taken over kickoff duties, where he has a touchback rate almost twice as high as Cantele’s.

The Wolverines haven’t been particularly strong on special teams under Brady Hoke, but they haven’t been terrible, either. They did block a punt and return it for a touchdown against Central Michigan, and the game-tying end-of-regulation field goal against Northwestern was the #4 play in the Big Ten this year, according to BTN Live. Unfortunately, battle-tested Brendan Gibbons is out, and Wile has been erratic as a kicker and as a punter. Michigan’s return games have been exciting but fruitless with Norfleet, Gallon, and Dileo. Meanwhile, Kansas State has a couple all-conference-caliber returners in Lockett and Thompson, and Cantele is a solid kicker if healthy. The Wolverines did allow a punt return touchdown to South Carolina’s Ace Sanders in last year’s bowl game, so they’ve been susceptible to special teams breakdowns at times. Wile might be able to negate Lockett’s return abilities because he’s pretty good at kicking touchbacks, and Michigan has some aggressive players on punt coverage, but overall, this is looking like an advantage for . . .

ADVANTAGE: Kansas State

24Dec 2013
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Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Preview: Defensive Backs

Safety Ty Zimmerman is a potential game-changer at safety if he’s healthy.

 The headliner of this group is redshirt sophomore Blake Countess (5’10”, 182 lbs.), who’s tied for #5 in the country with 6 picks and is #3 in return yards with 169, including a touchdown. He also has 42 tackles and 4 pass breakups to his name. Countess starts on the outside but will slide into the slot when Michigan goes to its nickel packages. The other starter at corner is junior Raymon Taylor (5’10”, 183 lbs.), who’s tied for the team lead with 81 tackles and has 4 picks and 9 pass breakups of his own. Taylor racks up a lot of tackles because teams attack him instead of Countess, but he’s a solid tackler when receivers catch the ball near him. The other sure starter in the defensive backfield is fifth year senior strong safety Thomas Gordon (5’11”, 213 lbs.), a guy who lacks speed and isn’t a headhunter but who usually seems to be in the right spot; he has 49 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, and 2 pass breakups this year despite missing two games. The likely starter at free safety is sophomore Jarrod Wilson (6’2″, 200 lbs.), a potentially violent hitter who sometimes gets caught out of position; he has 45 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and 2 pass breakups.
Backups: Wilson has lost some playing time to senior Courtney Avery (5’11”, 175 lbs.), who has bounced back and forth between corner, slot corner, and safety throughout his career; he has 30 tackles and .5 sacks on the year but looks to have lost a step after an injury over the summer and has been inconsistent. Redshirt junior Josh Furman (6’2″, 202 lbs.) is a linebacker in a safety’s body, and he has just 11 tackles and 1 pass breakup on the year, despite earning two starts and a variety of backup duty. He can be taken advantage of through the air. At cornerback, when Countess slides into the slot, he’s replaced by one of two freshmen: Channing Stribling (6’2″, 171 lbs., 15 tackles) or Jourdan Lewis (5’10”, 170 lbs., 17 tackles, 2 pass breakups). Whoever has the best week of practice is the one who earns the role that game, so we’ll just have to wait and see who gets the nod.

Starters: Fifth year senior safety Ty Zimmerman (6’1″, 204 lbs.) is the leader of the group and has been a First Team All-Big 12 selection in both 2012 and 2013; he has 70 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions (2 returned for touchdowns), and 4 pass breakups this season. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, he missed the final two regular season games and is questionable for the bowl game. Sophomore fellow safety Dante Barnett (6’1″, 186 lbs.) has 67 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, and 3 pass breakups. The Wildcats spend a lot of time in a nickel package, so the fifth defensive back – a safety/linebacker hybrid – is redshirt junior Randall Evans (6’0″, 190 lbs.), who has 59 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, and 10 pass breakups. The cornerbacks are solid but did not earn any all-conference accolades. Fifth year senior Kip Daily (5’11”, 180 lbs.) has 47 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 4 pass breakups on the year, while fifth year senior Dorrian Roberts (5’10”, 168 lbs.) has 37 stops, 2.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, and 8 pass breakups. Roberts is rather inexperienced after playing in junior college for two years, redshirting in 2011, and not seeing the field at all in 2012.
Backups: Redshirt junior Dylan Schellenberg (6’0″, 189 lbs.) has been starting in Zimmerman’s stead, and he has 19 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 interception on the year. Fifth year senior Carl Miles, Jr. (5’11”, 190 lbs.) has 6 tackles and 1 pass breakup on the season, but he and the other backups are rarely used. Other than subbing Evans in and out for a linebacker, the Wildcats go with their starting unit almost the whole game.

Michigan is #62 in the nation giving up 238 yards/game through the air, but much of that is due to teams throwing instead of running on a stout run defense; they’re #32 in passer efficiency rating defense. Kansas State is #24 in the latter category and tied for #47 nationally at 222 yards allowed/game. Two of KSU’s worst three games against the pass were in recent games against TCU and Oklahoma before righting the ship against a pathetic Kansas Jayhawks squad. They rank #20 in the country with 16 interceptions on the year. If Zimmerman is unable to go, the Wildcats are without any real playmakers in the defensive backfield, though. Michigan is #17 in interceptions with 17 this year, and the two starting corners are the strength of the backfield with 10 interceptions and 13 pass breakups between them. The safety play leaves a little bit to be desired between a lack of discipline (Wilson) and athleticism (Gordon). Despite having a better defensive unit against the pass, the better group of defensive backs play for . . .


23Dec 2013
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Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Preview: Linebackers

Blake Slaughter (#53) helped seal a win against TCU with an interception and 39-yard return

Starters: Sophomore weakside linebacker James Ross III (6’1″, 220 lbs.) leads the unit in tackles and is tied for the team lead despite missing the last 1.5 games with an injury; he has 81 stops, 5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Quick and decisive, Ross makes plays by beating blockers to the point of attack, but he’s listed as “questionable” for the bowl game. Junior middle linebacker Desmond Morgan (6’1″, 227 lbs.) is a thumper despite not being particularly big, and he has 73 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 highlight-reel interception this season. Morgan isn’t the fastest linebacker around, but he can hold his ground in the run game. The “star” of the group is actually redshirt junior outside linebacker Jake Ryan (6’3″, 240 lbs.), who has just 26 tackles and 4 tackles for loss; he tore his ACL in the spring and returned halfway through the season, so he has flashed his old athleticism but hasn’t performed up to the standard he set in 2012.
Backups: Sophomore Joe Bolden (6’3″, 225 lbs.) is fourth on the team with 50 tackles, along with 3 tackles for loss and 1 sack. He will likely be Ross’s replacement if the starter can’t go. Bolden has been the top sub at both inside linebacker positions all year in what was mostly a three-man rotation, thus the high tackle total. Freshman Ben Gedeon (6’3″, 236 lbs.) took over Bolden’s substitute role with Ross out, so he might see a significant amount of playing time; he made 14 tackles and 1 sack in limited duty. The other notable player is fifth year senior Cam Gordon (6’3″, 237 lbs.), a fast and strong athlete who’s been pushed to the side by Ryan’s return despite having 38 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks on the season.

Starters: Fifth year senior Blake Slaughter (5’10”, 227 lbs.) is the team leader in tackles with 103 and was honorable mention all-conference; he also had 6 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 1 interception. Despite being a little stouter than fellow inside linebacker Jonathan Truman (5’11”, 219 lbs.), Slaughter’s the one who bounces outside the box against trips formations and slot receivers. Slaughter was a little used linebacker in 2009-2011 and then redshirted in 2012 in order to help the team in 2013, which was part of the reason he was voted team captain this year. Truman has 85 tackles and 4 tackles for loss to his credit. He’s a redshirt sophomore former walk-on.
Backups: Senior Tre Walker (6’3″, 225 lbs.) is the outside linebacker when Kansas State is in a 4-3 look, and he has 26 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss this season. Redshirt freshman Will Davis (6’0″, 223 lbs.) has 16 tackles this season but doesn’t see a lot of playing time.

Michigan has had solid play from its linebackers for most of the year, and they generally tend to be technically sound. The Wolverines basically have five guys capable of starting (Ross, Morgan, Ryan, Bolden, and Gordon) with Gedeon as a pretty good fourth inside linebacker. The inside guys won’t blitz often, but Ryan and Gordon can threaten the quarterback off the edge. In an admittedly limited study of Kansas State, I think Slaughter, Truman, and Walker are exploitable. Kansas State runs a lot of a 4-2-5 look, meaning their opponents are running at a six-man core that includes two linebackers who are the same weight as Michigan’s linebackers but don’t play quite as stout, in my opinion. They try to run around blocks and they have trouble disengaging. They are fairly quick, which might suit them well against some of the wide-open offenses in the Big 12 (Oregon State, Oklahoma, Baylor, etc.), but they might struggle against a straight-ahead running team that has power running backs in 240 lb. Derrick Green and 224 lb. De’Veon Smith.