Michigan and Kansas State have had their share of ups and downs during the 2013 season, and their Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl matchup features plenty of intrigue. The Wolverines and Wildcats kick off Saturday at 10:15 p.m. ET from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
Because this is the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Kevin Bunkley at Maize N Brew has appropriately compared the two teams to varieties of BWW's hot wing sauce.
Obligatory BWW Sauce Joke: Kansas State is like the Medium wing sauce. Comfortable, slow burn that can sneak up on you if you overdo it, and classically plain flavor. Just like Bill Snyder's wardrobe. Michigan, meanwhile: after the Notre Dame win, they were Hot -- exhilarating sensation and delicious satisfaction. Mid-season, they were Blazin' Sauce, and not in a good way. The description on the sauce bottle reads, "keep away from your eyes, pets, children," and the same could be said of the Michigan offense. Now, they're Wild Sauce -- classic program, big presence, blisterin' performance given the right preparation and execution. This is what Michigan fans want to see, lest the coaches turn into a bunch of Caribbean Jerks and blow this game.
But the folks at Maize N Brew aren't just sitting around, thinking of how football teams are similar to mass-produced chicken wing sauces. No, they're also breaking down the Wildcats position by position. Looking at KSU's defensive line, Zach Travis is impressed with defensive end Ryan Mueller, and not much else.
The big name to know on the Kansas State defense - that isn't all conference safety Ty Zimmerman - is Ryan Mueller, one of the most productive defensive players in the country. Mueller is currently in the top ten in both sacks (11.0, 7th) and tackles for loss (18.5, 10th). The former walk-on doesn't look like he should be one of the best pass rushers in the nation at just 6'2, but that non-ideal height hasn't slowed him from putting up the kind of numbers that jump off the page.
Unfortunately for Kansas State's defense, there is only one Ryan Mueller, and the production falls off drastically from there. Fellow starter Marquel Bryant has just two sacks on the season and three tackles for loss. Backups Laton Dowling and Alauna Finau have 2.5 and 3.0 TFLs respectively to go along with a combined 1.5 sacks.
Over at Bring on the Cats, TB is aware of the fact that Michigan's Shane Morris will be filling in for the injured Devin Gardner at quarterback, and he expects that to result in a little more power running from the Wolverines.
As Michigan coach Brady Hoke noted this week, Morris will start in place of Devin Gardner, as a long season behind an offensive line that allowed almost three sacks per game finally caught up to the Wolverines' starting quarterback. To give you an idea of how often Michigan throws the ball, Gardner was 208-345-11 for 2,960 yards (8.6 yards/attempt before sack adjustment) and 21 TDs.
As Ian Boyd noted earlier this week, Michigan's offense is based on West Coast passing concepts -- timing, ball-control passing -- with a dose of power rushing. Morris is a highly regarded recruit, but given that he's a true freshman and threw an interception in only nine attempts this season, I wouldn't be surprised to see a heavier dose of Toussaint than Michigan customarily shows. If Toussaint stays around that season average of 3.5 yards per carry, then that's good news for K-State. Of course, if K-State plays like it did against Oklahoma's rushing attack, then that could be very bad news indeed.
In his breakdown of the Michigan defense, wildcat00 says the Wolverines' D might be better than the 7-5 record indicates and worries about some matchup problems.
The numbers (from cfbstats.com) suggest Michigan played well enough on defense to win more than seven games. As a unit, the Wolverines give up about 367.4 total yards/game, but only about 140 rushing yards/game. Michigan's stout play against the run was aided in part from DE Frank Clark, who leads the team in sacks and TFL, and strong side LB Jake Ryan, who only played part of the season as a result of an ACL injury from spring ball. In pass coverage, Michigan's player-to-watch in the secondary is Blake Countess, who has six interceptions on the year, including one he returned for a score. Expect to hear all these names called quite a bit in the bowl game.
In other words, I think the Michigan defense presents some particular matchup disadvantages for the K-State offense, and it will be interesting to see what K-State has to come up with if Michigan is as successful against the run as they've been all season.
It's not just Michigan and Kansas State partisans talking about this game. SB Nation's Dan Rubenstein gives three reasons to watch this edition of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.