Starter: Blake Slaughter (5'10'', 227, SR)
Backup: Will Davis (6'0'', 223, RS FR)
KSU's linebackers are an experienced bunch, with four upperclassmen on the two-deep, including all three starters. The intimidatingly named Blake Slaughter leads the way in the experience department and in tackles; Slaughter leads the KSU defense with a whopping 103 tackles (68 solo). Slaughter is also a threat to get into the backfield, as he's racked up 6.0 tackles for loss, including three sacks, tied for the second most on the team.
Despite being a senior, Slaughter actually redshirted last season so that he could play after current Baltimore Raven Arthur Brown's departure (Brown went on to be drafted in the second round). The move has clearly paid off for both Slaughter and Kansas State, as the undersized linebacker has capably taken taken over the inside linebacking role post-Brown.
This draft profile indicates that he "doesn't cover as much turf" as Brown, but take that for what it's worth. Slaughter is undersized but productive, and Michigan's offensive linemen and tight ends haven't exactly been mauling people.
As for his backup, Will Davis redshirted last season but has played in all 12 games this season, tallying 16 total tackles (14 solo).
Starter: Jonathan Truman (5'11'', 219, JR)
Backup: Dakorey Johnson (6'3'', 200, SR)
Truman is also an experienced 'backer for the Wildcats; like Slaughter, he seems to be on the smaller end, albeit Slaughter is of the small but squat variety. Truman, meanwhile, is listed at juts 219 pounds. However, like Slaughter, Truman hasn't allowed that to hinder his numbers, as he's second on the team in tackles with 85.
Truman has also notched four tackles for loss and forced two fumbles.
Backup Dakorey Johnson has six tackles and an interception in seven games.
Starter: Tre Walker (6'3'', 225, JR)
Backup: Mike Moore (6'1'', 217, SO)
Tre Walker isn't quite as prolific as his fellow linebackers; he's got 26 tackles on the season, including 2.5 tackles for loss. After a strong first couple of seasons in Manhattan, Walker suffered a season-ending injury last October. It's unclear whether the injury is to blame for the lack of numbers or if Slaughter and Truman are eating everything up, but Walker appears to be your standard run-stuffing SLB. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, you could say that he, too, is a bit undersized (for a reference point, Jake Ryan is 6-foot-3, 240 pounds).
Someone else will cover the defensive line, but the theme thus far is that while the Wildcats might not be physically imposing, the defense is solid despite being undersized in the front seven. The secondary does not give up too many big plays, as Zach noted yesterday, and the linebackers seem to clean whatever gets through the defensive line. Sure, as this excellent post from Football Study Hall explains, this could be deemed a bend-but-don't-break outfit. That may come across as an insult to some, but it has worked for the Wildcats more often than not.
Also of note from the FSH article: KSU plays the nickel a significant majority of the time. Speed and discipline are the linchpins of this defense.
Perhaps most impressively, the Wildcats held Baylor to just 35 points on Oct. 12, a total that ended up being Baylor's third lowest total of the season (the Bears scored 30 against Texas and just 17 against Oklahoma State).
In any case, these linebackers are quick and experienced. When the defensive line keeps them clean, they rack up big numbers. If Michigan were further ahead in its quest to return to a decidedly power running-based brand of football, running right at these linebackers would be the order of the day.
But, unfortunately for Michigan, the blocking simply hasn't been there for that to be a reasonable course of action. Al Borges and Co. will need these bowl practices to be fruitful ones for the young linemen vis-a-vis knowing their assignments. While Kansas State doesn't blitz much or do anything too crazy, the speed of KSU's linebackers paired with missed blokcing assignments will equal many tackles for loss -- unless Derrick Green et al are ready to break some tackles in the backfield.