NCF Nation: wings bowl 2013

Jake WatersMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJake Waters threw three touchdown passes, but his timely rushes kept the Wildcats' offense moving.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Jake Waters was reticent. It was all so easy, but it didn't feel right to admit that. Still, the numbers told a story.

Waters was exceptional, leading a dominant offensive effort for Kansas State in a 31-14 win over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. He threw three first-half touchdown passes Saturday night, all to Tyler Lockett. Michigan knew what was coming, yet the Wolverines were powerless to stop it.

Yes, Waters had to admit. It was easy.

"When you have a special player like Tyler, any time he's one-on-one, I'm looking for him," Waters said. "I have that confidence in him, because he's such a special player."

Michigan quarterback Shane Morris had a solid enough game, too. The freshman was making his first career start in place of injured Devin Gardner. He hadn't thrown a pass in a game since Nov. 2, but he was sharp. He completed 15 of 19 throws in the first half. He was cool, composed, confident. But unlike Waters, Morris got little help.

When the game was over and the Kansas State crowd cheered for head coach Bill Snyder as the Wildcats accepted the trophy for their first bowl victory in 11 years, Waters wasn't even on the stage. Lockett was the offensive MVP. The defense had dominated. Waters was a supporting player.

When Michigan slumped off the field, owner of a 7-6 record and loser of five of its final six, Morris was at the forefront. Amid a season gone awry, for a program adrift as it stares down a bleak offseason in which so many areas need to improve dramatically, he offered hope.

"Who knows who will be the quarterback next year?" Morris offered when asked about the future -- a 2014 season in which Gardner is slated to return but wholesale changes appear imminent.

All season, Waters split time with Daniel Sams in a two-quarterback system, but he improved, and so did the team. Kansas State rallied from a 2-4 start to finish as one of the nation's hottest teams.

[+] EnlargeShane Morris
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesShane Morris performed admirably in his first career start, giving Michigan hope for the future.
All season, Morris waited in the wings. A former ESPN150 recruit, he threw just nine passes behind Gardner, and Michigan devolved.

Saturday's meeting was a marker for where both programs now stand. Kansas State is poised for 2014, with Waters and Lockett speaking jubilantly about the future. Michigan is at a crossroads, with Morris a lone bright spot in a finale that included a disastrous defensive effort and another lackluster effort from the ground game.

And yet, in the aftermath, the praise for Waters was limited, offered largely as a side note to Lockett's impressive performance. But even Kansas State's players raved about Morris, who threw 38 passes and finished as Michigan's leading rusher.

"Shane held his own," Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon said.

"You would've thought he was doing it five years now," lineman Taylor Lewan said.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke credited his quarterback, too, but found little consolation in the performance. His job now is to decide whether Morris in an answer to one of many problems.

On the other side, Snyder shrugged off his willingness to stick with Waters for the bulk of the game as simply riding the momentum of a hot hand. But it's Waters and Lockett and Snyder who have all the momentum now. As the page turns on the final chapter of 2013 and they look ahead to what's to come, there isn't simply hope and promise in Manhattan, Kan. There is expectation.

"Ending the season 6-1," Lockett said, "it gives us a lot more to look forward to going into next year."

For Michigan, the future might be the baby-faced quarterback who led the offense to just six points before Saturday's final two minutes, but even that remains a question still unresolved.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Kansas State and Michigan finished the regular season headed in opposite directions, and that dichotomy was clear from the outset Saturday as the Wildcats cruised to a 31-14 win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

It was over when: Shane Morris' third-down pass with 7:30 to play and Kansas State up by 18 fell incomplete, sending Michigan's punt team in for the fifth straight drive and effectively ending any chance at a comeback attempt. Michigan's offense was stuck in neutral throughout, and while Kansas State failed to cash in on several second-half opportunities to put the game away, there was never any real drama down the stretch. Dante Barnett's interception on Michigan's next drive ensured the final score was as one-sided as the play on the field had been throughout.

Game ball goes to: Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters. The junior-college transfer was nearly flawless all night, completing 21 of 27 passes for 271 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Tyler Lockett caught all three touchdowns and would have had a fourth if he didn’t drop a perfectly thrown ball from Daniel Sams in the end zone. Waters was impressive with his arm, but he made his share of plays with his legs, too, racking up 42 rushing yards, including running for five first downs. Aside from the drop, Lockett was exceptional. He finished with 194 all-purpose yards -- his sixth game this season with more than 150 all-purpose yards.

Stat of the game: 22. That was Michigan's rushing total with 2 minutes left on the clock, a dreadful effort that effectively doomed any chance at moving the ball consistently. The ground game has struggled all season for the Wolverines, and Kansas State didn't seem to break a sweat shutting down Michigan's runners. A 14-yard run by Devin Funchess on a double reverse in the first quarter and a 40-yard scramble by Morris with less than 2 minutes to play provided the only highlights. The rest of the ground game amounted to just 11 yards on 13 carries, and Morris was forced to carry the load in his first career start.

Unsung hero: Morris, a true freshman, stepped in for injured Devin Gardner, and he was solid. He wasn't asked to make too many tough passes -- particularly in the early going -- but he also got no support from the running game. Still, he completed 15 of 19 passes in the first half for 121 yards, converting a couple of big third downs and improvising when plays broke down. In the end, it didn't matter much, as Michigan simply couldn't overcome its many holes, and while Morris was calm, cool and consistent, the lack of support doomed his second half.

What Michigan learned: It has a quarterback for the future, but there are plenty of other issues that need to be addressed. Morris was solid despite getting precious little help from his teammates, but even if he continues to develop over the offseason and unseats Gardner as the quarterback of the future, Michigan's prospects won't improve much if the defense and running game don't get much better. Kansas State ran with ease up the middle, had wide open receivers often and had little trouble completely silencing Michigan's ground game. It was a script far too familiar for the Wolverines in 2013, and Brady Hoke has his work cut out for him finding answers before the 2014 season begins.

What Kansas State learned: There's no bowl jinx, and Bill Snyder can win games in December just as easily as he wins them in the fall. Kansas State hadn't won a bowl game since 2002, but the Wildcats dominated this one from the outset. The offense continues to evolve, and the defense completely shut down Michigan. After a slow start to the season, Kansas State finished as hot as anyone, winning six of its final seven games. More importantly, the pieces are in place for that success to continue into 2014.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, click here.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl preview

December, 28, 2013
Michigan and Kansas State will face off for the first time in the programs’ histories on Saturday (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. Here are a few key players and matchups to watch.

Who to watch: Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller came up big all season, racking up 11.5 sacks -- the sixth-best tally in the nation. He could add to those numbers Saturday against a shaky Michigan offensive line that allowed the second-most sacks in the Big Ten. In addition, the Wolverines will be starting true freshman Shane Morris at quarterback, and Mueller will be poised to expose any butterflies the young signal-caller might have in his first start. Also keep an eye on Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett, who racked up 1,665 all-purpose yards this season, along with Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon (80 catches, 1,284 yards, nine touchdowns) and cornerback Blake Countess (six interceptions).

What to watch: The matchup at the line of scrimmage should be crucial -- and if Kansas State can rattle Morris early, it could get ugly for the Wolverines. Michigan will want to run the ball and take some of the pressure off the freshman quarterback, but that could be easier said than done: The Wolverines finished second-to-last in the Big Ten in rushing during the regular season. Michigan averaged just 1.6 yards per carry during its final five games, while Kansas State’s defense allowed just one of its final eight opponents to top 125 yards on the ground.

Why to watch: Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner will miss the game with a turf toe injury, meaning Morris will get a chance to lead the offense and give Wolverines fans a glimpse into the future. An ESPN 300 prospect a year ago, Morris threw just nine passes this season. But he appears to be the heir apparent, meaning there’s ample reason for fans to tune in, even if the regular season proved to be something of a disappointment for Michigan.

Prediction: Michigan 27, Kansas State 24. So much of the storyline adds up to a Kansas State victory, but won’t the offseason be so much more interesting if Michigan fans can second-guess waiting so long for Morris to get his chance?
It’s not a surprise to see Baylor sitting atop the Big 12 in yards per play. The Bears were one of college football’s most creative and versatile offenses while averaging 7.58 yards per play this season.

The same can be said about the team that sits second in the conference. It brings an explosive, balanced offense that is difficult to prepare for and always has a creative wrinkle. That team? Kansas State.

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Scott Sewell/USA TODAY SportsKansas State's two-quarterback combo of Jake Waters, left, and Daniel Sams keeps opposing defenses off balance.
Creative and explosive aren’t the first words that come to mind when thinking of the Wildcats, but those words describe Bill Snyder’s offense this season as KSU averaged 6.3 yards per play and 33.4 points per game.

“He’s always has a different wrinkle,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said of Snyder’s offense.

The Wildcats’ first touchdown in their 31-10 Sunflower Showdown win over Kansas is a good glimpse at the creativity of the KSU offense. Quarterback Jake Waters found Zach Trujillo for a 35-yard touchdown. The play was blocked like a running play with Waters having the option to run or throw. The run-based design of the play brought Jayhawks safety Isaiah Johnson out of the defensive backfield to try to stop Waters, who appeared to be running on the quarterback draw before he stopped at the line of scrimmage and lofted a throw to Trujillo, who had just slipped behind Johnson. There was nobody within 10 yards of Trujillo as he cruised to the end zone.

Creative and effective.

This season the Wildcats offense has polished its ability to adapt on the fly. With Waters and fellow quarterback Daniel Sams, KSU has used two unique offensive looks to take advantage of their skills. Heading into Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings bowl battle against Michigan, the Wildcats have perfected their offensive approach.

“They present a challenge in that 15 (Waters) can throw it and he’s mobile,” Wolverines defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “No. 4 (Sams) can run it and he can throw it enough to keep you honest. You’ve got a combination of two pretty good things right there. They’ve got a very good offense.”

Several stats provide a better appreciation of the Wildcats’ explosiveness:

  • KSU averaged 6.95 yards per play on first down, second in the Big 12 behind Baylor.
  • The Wildcats clearly enter games with a solid game plan. In the first quarter, 27.9 percent of the Wildcats’ plays gained 10 yards or more, best in the Big 12.
  • The Wildcats scored points 55.8 percent of the time after gaining a first down to start a drive, second in the Big 12 behind Baylor.
  • KSU averaged 2.5 points per drive, second in the Big 12 behind Baylor.
  • The Wildcats converted 47.7 percent of their third-down attempts to lead the Big 12.

KSU has one of the Big 12’s top offenses because the Wildcats make it extremely difficult to prepare for everything they can do. One play, Waters might hit All-Big 12 receiver Tyler Lockett behind the defense. The next play, Sams could be using his running back-like skills to slash through the linebackers on his way to a long run. It’s nearly impossible to thoroughly prepare for all those options.

“It's hard for schools to go back and get a scouting report and scout two quarterbacks,” Lockett said. “You never know who is going to be a quarterback. You never know who you're going to get at quarterback. That kind of hurts them because they try to figure out, 'OK, when this quarterback is in, we need to work on this.' And we might be working on a totally different offensive scheme going against the next team. It keeps teams off balance whenever we play day in and day out.”

And week in and week out, the Kansas State offense dismantles defenses while others get the headlines.

The news that Shane Morris will start at quarterback for Michigan against Kansas State in Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is bringing plenty of people some holiday joy, as it gives the Wolverines a look at what the future will be at quarterback.

For much of the season, especially during rough stretches for starting quarterback Devin Gardner, fans called for Morris, a highly touted true freshman, to get a chance to play.

As the season came to a close, however, it was Gardner who was playing his best football of the year.

In the past four games, Gardner completed 87 of 143 passes (61 percent) for 971 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. Those are the kind of stats that would generally bring a positive outlook and confidence into a bowl game, compared to Morris’ 5 of 9 for 65 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception on the season.

A large part of Gardner’s season-ending success was due to the offensive line finally starting to come together and a run game -- outside of Gardner -- finally starting to form. Those two aspects gave Gardner the time in the pocket to make good decisions while also giving time for plays to develop.

Those are also the two things Morris will have to rely on the most Saturday.

He’ll be facing some pretty tough defensive linemen, and there will likely be little worry from the Kansas State sideline in sending pressure against a freshman who has played in only four games because, well, he’s a freshman who has played in only four games.

Morris came to Michigan heralded for his strong arm, but he struggled -- like many freshmen -- with his touch. Even in seven-on-seven tournaments and high school games, he impressed with how far and fast he could throw the ball, but his passes were often uncatchable by his receivers.

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AP Photo/Tony DingTrue freshman Shane Morris will give Michigan a glimpse of its future at quarterback in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
But Michigan coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges have praised Morris for how much he has grown this season, both physically and mentally.

Morris was the first recruiting commitment for this Michigan coaching staff. He was unable to enroll early because of his private school’s graduation rules, but he was excited to get on campus in the summer after more than two years of being a commit.

“It has been my dream since I was little to start at quarterback for the University of Michigan,” Morris said Thursday. “It’s a huge bowl game. I’m excited. I grew up in Michigan. My family surrounded me in Michigan. I have baby pictures of me in Michigan jerseys.”

That excitement isn’t what will keep Michigan competitive Saturday, though. The offensive line will have to play its best game of the year as Kansas State defensive linemen like Ryan Mueller (18.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks) look to get to the freshman who has attempted only nine passes on the season.

Morris said he and Gardner have been keeping in touch daily on what to do and how Morris should run the offense against the Wildcats.

Bowl games often provide a look at the future, but Michigan -- with Morris as its starter and Gardner sidelined -- is getting an even bigger glimpse.
It wasn't the sight Michigan fans hoped to see Monday in Arizona: quarterback Devin Gardner exiting the team plane on crutches, his left foot in a walking boot.

The Wolverines are in the desert for their Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl matchup Saturday night against Kansas State. But they'll be without their starting quarterback for the game if he doesn't heal in a hurry.

Coach Brady Hoke said Michigan is preparing to go with freshman Shane Morris at quarterback for the bowl game. Gardner won't practice today, and if he doesn't return to the field by Wednesday, he'll likely miss the game. Gardner has been battling turf toe since late in the Ohio State game Nov. 30. He visited with the team doctor Friday.

"If we were playing tonight he would not play," Hoke said. "We're going into it that Shane will be the guy."

Morris, who has worked with the first-team offense throughout bowl prep, has attempted just nine passes (completing five) in four games. Gardner racked up 2,960 pass yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions to go along with 483 rush yards and 11 touchdowns. He was brilliant against Ohio State, passing for 451 yards and four touchdowns. Russell Bellomy, who missed the regular season with a knee injury but has been cleared to practice, would serve as Morris' backup.

Compounding the Gardner news is the announcement that senior kicker Brendan Gibbons will miss the bowl game because of a family issue in Florida. Gibbons, who converted 15 of 20 field-goal attempts this season, didn't travel with Michigan.

Punter Matt Wile, who filled in for Gibbons against Ohio State, will handle all the kicking duties.

Michigan's offense really came out of its shell against Ohio State with an innovative game plan spurred by big plays. But Gardner played a big role, and his absence puts a lot onto Morris, a heralded recruit who remains largely unproven. Players like Jeremy Gallon, Devin Funchess, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green will need to help out the young quarterback against Kansas State.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

December, 8, 2013

Kansas State Wildcats (7-5) vs. Michigan Wolverines (7-5)

Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m. ET, Tempe, Ariz.(ESPN)

The Wildcats were left for dead. KSU sat at 2-4 including a loss to FCS power North Dakota State and 2012 breakout star Collin Klein was no longer in the quarterbacks meeting room. Time to start thinking about 2014, right?

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Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesThe versatile Daniel Sams has accounted for 15 touchdowns this season.
Bill Snyder and company didn’t get the message. Instead, they reeled off wins in five of their last six Big 12 games to finish 7-5 and earn a berth in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. After sputtering early, the Wildcats’ two-quarterback system with Daniel Sams and Jake Waters worked seamlessly during the final half of the season, helping K-State average 36.7 points per game in its final six games. KSU’s 6.54 yards per play during that span led the Big 12, even better than the headline-making crew from Baylor.

Defensive end Ryan Mueller led the way for the K-State defense, terrorizing Big 12 quarterbacks and running backs in route to 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. The Wildcats’ fundamentally sound defense looked similar to the squad that earned a Fiesta Bowl berth a year ago, leading the Big 12 with 4.73 yards per play allowed in the final six-game stretch.

Now Michigan, who lost four of its last five games, awaits and the Wildcats return to Arizona for the second straight year in a bowl matchup will be a battle of two teams who finished the season on opposite sides of the spectrum. -- Brandon Chatmon


[+] EnlargeDevin Garnder
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDevin Gardner has been productive on those rare occasions when he has had time in the pocket.
The Wolverines had an up-and-down season and eventually finished 7-5. While they were just two or three plays away from being 9-3, they were also -- quite realistically -- two or three plays away from being 5-7.

Early on, Michigan almost dropped games to Akron and Connecticut, while struggling to find any kind of an offensive identity, despite returning key playmakers. Quarterback Devin Gardner took a beating from opposing defenses through the middle of the season (enduring 17 sacks in three games) and while he found a way to make it to the Ohio State game in one piece, he ended the year far from 100 percent.

But after 10 games, the Michigan coaching staff finally found its best offensive line combination and when they did -- and when that group really worked together -- the Wolverines found a run game and managed to give Gardner enough time in the pocket for the plays to develop down field.

Defensively, it was a very different feel all season. The Wolverine defense employed a bend-but-don’t-break mentality and were a bright point for a sputtering team at many times. But near the end of the season, it gave up huge plays and went through major breakdowns in decisive games to end the year with Iowa and Ohio State. -- Chantel Jennings