It close to end the of the year and before the year ends and another one begins, the Michigan Wolverines are looking to end their season on a high note at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl as they face-off against the Kansas State Wildcats. While the Wolverines are unfortunately going into this game without quarterback Devin Gardner (foot injury), that doesn’t mean that they can’t win this game but for them to win, the Wolverines will need to follow certain keys to victory.
While everybody is talking about freshman quarterback Shane Morris and whether he can have success in his first start let me remind you that Morris’s success starts with the three offensive areas.The first area being the offensive line, if the offensive line doesn’t open up holes for the run game and give Morris time in the pocket, the Wolverines are going nowhere fast. Now, let’s not forget that Michigan’s offensive line allowed 19 sacks the first three games in November and don’t make me mention how many times Gardner was sacked this season. So I will say again, the offensive line must protect and give Morris time and they must open up holes for the run game.
Which leads me to second area to watch, which is the run game. The Wolverines must run the ball early and often, more importantly they must run the effectively. Now, the run game doesn’t need to be dominant but the run game should offer balance. Running the ball, takes some much-needed pressure off the passing game to move the chains and helps with the Wolverines third down inefficiencies. I would also suggest that the Wolverines continue using Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith. I know Fitzgerald Toussaint is the senior leader but Smith and Green found form of success late this season when running the ball and the Wolverines will need all the success they can get in the run game.
The third area to watch is offensive coordinator Al Borges, I have said all season long that Borges must put his quarterback in a position to succeed and I don’t felt he did that this season. Meaning that when the offensive line showed their inability to protect Gardner consistently, Borges should have made a point to get the ball out of Gardner’s hands quicker and call short and intermediate routes such as slants, draws, curls even screens and trust the receivers to make plays after the catch. He can’t afford to call these long passing plays because the receivers have trouble getting separation from the defender plus at the time Gardner didn’t receive enough time in the pocket for the play to develop. So again I say if the offensive line doesn’t give Morris time in the pocket, Borges must make the much-needed adjustments that I feel he didn’t make with Gardner.
Which leads me to Shane Morris who must perform well in his first start for the Wolverines have any success. Starting with letting the game come to him. Going into this game Morris doesn’t want to force anything, he just needs to take what the defense gives him because if he turns the ball over, Kansas State will make him pay for it. Overall, Morris must make the right reads and do his best to get the ball out of his hands quickly and allow his receivers to make plays after the catch. If there is nothing there, I challenge him to tuck the ball and run. Now Morris is nowhere near a scrambler like Gardner is but he has the ability to tuck and run if needed at times. Morris also has a strong-arm and is capable of making the big plays, but just like I said earlier, Morris needs to let the game come to him. Meaning there will be opportunities for him to make the big play but he must not force it. Morris will also need his receivers to step up starting with Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess. Unfortunately for Morris, he doesn’t have many consistent weapons after that but if Gallon and Funchess are able to consistently get open and make plays and one more receiver like tight end Jake Butt or wide receiver Drew Dileo is able to step up, the Wolverines have a chance.
Defensively, it all starts with not giving up the big play. Kansas State’s offense is by no means an elite scoring offense but that’s no reason to underestimate them. Plus you have to remember that the Wolverines defense has a tendency to allow the average offense to look like Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. However, going into this game that is unacceptable, the defense must be prepared to step up, starting with containing Kansas State’s run game. Now that’s not an easy task, considering that running back John Hubert averages 109 yard a game when he receives 15 plus carries but if the defensive line is able to control the line of scrimmage and the linebackers are able to come into the backfield and make plays, they may have a chance to slow him down. However, the Wolverines can’t afford to be wimpy tacklers in this game, they must wrap up and finish all tackles to slow him down. The Wolverines must also be prepared for quarterback Daniel Sams, mainly because he is the legs of the Kansas State’s quarterback duo. He may not have the big numbers to put him in the national spotlight but that hasn’t stopped him from averaging 65 yards a game and scoring 11 touchdowns on the ground this season. So while he may not be the best scrambler in the country, the Wolverines must still be prepared to slow him down along with Hubert.
When it comes to slowing down the passing game, it all starts with understanding Kansas State’s quarterback Duo in Jake Waters and Daniel Sams. I mentioned earlier that Sams, is the legs of this duo but when it comes to containing the passing game, the Wolverines have to watch Waters. Now when talking about Waters, the Wolverines must take advantage of his lack of accuracy. All season long, Waters has struggled to sustain long drives because of his inaccuracy and touch and if the Wolverines secondary is able to make plays off of that, it will be huge for the Wolverines defense. The Wolverines secondary must also be prepared to take away Waters main target in wide receiver Tyler Lockett. If the Wolverines can take him away they will be forcing Waters to use his other weapons. However, if the Wolverines do decided to bracket Lockett, the rest of the secondary must be prepared to play their part and limit the big play through the air.
Ultimately, this game will come down to what it always does for the Wolverines and that’s execution. Nothing has stopped the Wolverines from succeeding except the Wolverines themselves. Going into this game, they have a chance to change that. I’ve given them the keys to victory, they just have to go out and execute on those keys to come out victorious.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com