Published December 26, 2013
| Sports Network
Tempe, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - The Michigan Wolverines take a two-game losing skid into the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 28, where they'll meet up with the Kansas State Wildcats.
Brady Hoke's Wolverines are 7-5 on the season, but have lost four of their last five matchups. The one win in that five-game span was a triple overtime edging of Northwestern, 27-19, at home. Their most recent game against Ohio State was a one-point loss at home to the third-ranked Buckeyes, 42-41.
Kansas State, on the other hand, has won five of its last six, including a trouncing of 25th-ranked Texas Tech, 49-26. Bill Snyder's Wildcats have only lost once, to Oklahoma (41-31), since Oct. 26. Kansas State is also 7-5 on the season after the team lost four of its first six games.
It's the first-ever meeting between Michigan and Kansas State. It will also mark the first game for Michigan against a Big 12 program this season, and the first Big Ten team Kansas State has faced this season.
Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, who started all 12 games for the Wolverines this season, could miss the bowl game as he is nursing a foot injury. Gardner was solid in 12 games this season, completing 208-of-345 pass attempts for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Gardner ranks 31st in the FBS in passer efficiency with a 146.1 rating. If Gardner is unable to suit up, the team will be in the hands of freshman Shane Morris.
Regardless of who is throwing the ball, the go-to target is Jeremy Gallon, who caught 80 passes this season - 33 more than the second leading receiver on the Wolverines. Gallon amassed 1,284 receiving yards and nine touchdown grabs, averaging 107 yards per game.
Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint gives the Wolverines another dimension on offense, despite his low rushing average. Toussaint carried the ball 183 times this season and gained 646 yards on the ground - averaging 58.7 rushing yards per game - but scored 12 touchdowns. Gardner helped the Michigan offense with his legs as well, rushing for 483 yards and 11 touchdowns.
As a team, Michigan outscored its opponents 405-318 this season, averaging 33.8 points per game, good for 37th in the FBS.
Defensively, the Wolverines were led by defensive back Raymon Taylor and linebacker James Ross III. Both players recorded 81 total tackles, although Ross played in one fewer game than Taylor. Ross, who is questionable to play in the game with an undisclosed injury, also recorded five tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Taylor led the Michigan defense with nine pass breakups and had four interceptions in 12 games.
The Wolverines ranked 38th in the FBS defensively, giving up an average of 367.4 yards per game. Keeping opponents out of the end zone is where the Wolverines struggled a bit. Michigan was 64th in the country in scoring defense, giving up an average of 26.5 points per game.
Defensive end Frank Clark was the team leader in tackles for loss (12), sacks (4.5) and quarterback hurries (7).
This is Hoke's third bowl game as head of the Michigan program. He's 1-1 with an overtime win in the 2012 Sugar Bowl, and a loss last season in the Outback Bowl. Michigan is 20-21 all-time in its bowl history.
"We are excited to represent the Big Ten Conference in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and to face a challenging Big 12 Conference opponent in Kansas State," Hoke said. "This is a great opportunity for Team 134, and we relish the chance to play one of college football's most successful programs."
Kansas State finished right behind Michigan in scoring offense this season in the national rankings, averaging 33.4 points per game in the team's 12 games played. The Wildcats operated with two quarterbacks that were both adept at passing and running the football.
Junior Jake Waters completed 138-of-233 pass attempts in 12 games for 2,198 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Sophomore Daniel Sims also played in 12 games, and served more of a rushing purpose. Sims attempted just 52 passes all season, but carried the ball 148 times for 784 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Senior running back John Hubert led the team in carries with 182, gaining 968 yards on the ground with nine touchdowns.
The most consistent receiver for the Wildcats was Tyler Lockett, who hauled in 71 receptions in 11 games played, for 1,146 yards and eight scores.
Although Kansas State's offense was ranked just behind Michigan's in terms of points per game, the Wildcats' defense can be found just slightly ahead of the Wolverines' in total defense. Kansas State allowed 367 yards per game to opponents this season.
Senior linebacker Blake Slaughter led the team in total tackles with 103, while also notching three sacks, an interception, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Defensive end Ryan Mueller dominated opponents' backfields, as the junior recorded 11.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. The Wildcats are 36th in the country with a 23.7 points against average.
Snyder knows the importance of playing in a bowl game, and said his team obviously wants to win badly. But going up against Michigan is always a tough assignment.
"No. 1, it is just Michigan," Snyder said. "I know there is talk about trying to get back to the `old Michigan,' and it is evident. You can see it on tape. I was at Iowa for 10 years and when Bo Schembechler was at Michigan, we played them every single year and I know what that is like. They are a very physical football team. They are a team that will beat you with fundamentals and execution and toughness. They are moving in the direction that they are wanting to move in, and I think that is very, very positive."