Now in bullet-point form!
Yeah, yeah, everyone's talking about Shane Morris. But football ain't football if it's Michael Jordan vs. the somebodies. It's 11-man, in-the-trenches, 60-very-long-minutes ball. Here are the match-ups that matter the most.
- Our offensive line against their defensive line.
Yeah, I'll just get right to it. Our whole season has ridden on this right here. A lot has been made about Ryan Mueller, WDE for Kansas State, and for sure he's up there with the best Taylor Lewan has faced this year. But Lewan has faced marquee players before, and remember, not every team has Rimington-Pace award winners to stack up against their D-line stars. Mueller was All-Big 12 First Team and had 11.5 sacks. As well, he's a powerful and quick 6'2", 245, so he's going to be a little different than a Jadaveon Clowney. He'll also be motivated. Keeping him off of Shane Morris is critical.
After that, KSU's defensive line has been a bit of a weak point. They bring a little bit of the B1G into the Big 12, and have proven they can make goal-line stands against teams like Baylor. But Kyle Kalis is healthy; Erik Magnuson has had a redshirt freshman season to hone his craft, and the same for Graham Glasgow. If the offensive line can get push on a majority of plays, and if you see any of the running backs getting between-the-tackle gains, then that means we are not in a position of desperation. It's felt like that a lot this season, except our final game against then #3 Ohio State, when there were no tackles for loss on the running backs after a season full of them. A good performance by the O-line will mean a lot to our hopes.
I've heard Kansas State called vanilla on offense, perhaps because Bill Snyder has lulled everyone to sleep, but they run a delayed quarterback run unlike anything I've ever seen: the quarterback, usually the athletic Sams, will take the snap and run behind one of his tackles, stuttering behind a tackle to let the linebacker react. A wide receiver will be on that side to take a delayed pass if the linebacker comes up in run support; if not, the QB runs for a 5-yard gain or more, so long as everybody holds their blocks effectively. Luckily, we have Jake Ryan at SAM and Ross III at WILL, and a B1G D-line - so we might not see much of that. If it's Waters, the linebackers have to blitz and hold their own in the slot and with their speedy running backs. The KSU backs are unlike anything we've seen this year to my memory, and Hubert especially (968 yards, 5.3 ypc) is frustrating to get to the turf.
- Shane Morris vs. The Stage
Shane Morris is playing. 100.2% of the football conversation has centered on this fact, and it really, really, really sucks, because I felt very confident in Devin Gardner's burgeoning abilities at QB, and the Wolverines need a good performance to hang their hat on. But, Shane Morris starts. The Inventory Year of 2013 continues.
I think a key to Morris' success is Jeremy Gallon. Obviously, he's the main engine that makes our receiving attack go, but also, a little differently from Funchess, Gallon's a real baller. He's, to quote Brady Hoke, a football player. If something goes wrong early in the game, Gallon will tell Morris to shake it off, and then go out and act that same way. If Hoke and Borges are the ones to teach Morris the plays and the schemes and the coverages to get him up to speed, Gallon will be a guy who reminds him to lean on his instinct. That's why freshmen who are picking up the intricacy of the game don't look as good; and right now Morris is in between mastering everything he has to know and just going out and resting on an instinctive comfort zone that athletes have when they perform. The psychology of Morris throughout the game will be an important part to Michigan's winning or losing.
Stat dump: Tyler Lockett had 1146 yards, 8 TD's and 16.1 ypc. Thompson had 495 on 17.7 ypc and 5 TD's. Blake Countess had 6 interceptions, 4th in all of FBS. Raymon Taylor had 4 interceptions. Thomas Gordon had 3, Jarrod Wilson 2. Collectively, we were great at intercepting the ball among college football teams, getting 17 in total and ranking 17th. If you're looking for big plays waiting to happen, expect some confusing schemes against Waters and Sams. We probably won't bring enough firepower to make them pass in too-obvious situations (we'll have a hard time stopping Hubert), but there may be a game-changing turnover here.
- Kansas State may be the B1G of the Big 12, but they're designed to stop Big 12 offenses. Morris being in there makes this a duh statement, but our strength is in our toughness and our ability to ram it down their throats. (Hey, we're going to see Michigan play tonight.) We're not likely to surprise them with anything in the passing game, in other words, because they've seen about everything a passing game can do.
- The one part of our team that has shown the least improvement has been the offensive line. As recently as Iowa, we were unable to get push and control the line and the game with our running. Kalis will have healed up a little (he was pretty banged up, apparently), Glasgow will have solidified snapping technique and just being a center, and Mags will have also gotten valuable reps and general time to heal. Also, they'll have something to prove. In all the mayhem and talk of defecting recruits and doom for our team (the way some people would say it, even the 'M' is sick of Michigan and tried walking off), never did Hoke (or Funk, or Al Borges) lose what mattered most, the locker room. The O-line will go out and play for their coaches.
- Kansas State was 1st in the conference and 16th in the nation in 3rd down conversion percentage. They were not good at it, however, on defense.
- K-State also returns punts very effectively. They defend it poorly.
- Both Michigan and KSU control the clock - among the better teams in the country. Both will want to control the clock to keep their quarterbacks out of obvious passing situations to have their full playbook available. Though of course, KSU has more explosiveness and veteran know-how at that position at the moment.
- Jake Waters grew up a Michigan fan.
- I feel like Shane Morris will lean on Devin Funchess a little more in ways we were accustomed to seeing between Gallon and Gardner. The star of KSU's linebacking corps, MLB Blake Slaughter, is only 5'10" and 227, and will probably try to deliver punishing blows to prevent passes from coming his way. Funchess (6'5", 235) will probably be more likely to go up against the WILL, Jonathan Truman (5'11", 219). He's a former walk-on (KSU has done a lot with walk-ons and three-stars) with 85 tackles and 2 forced fumbles.
- Also, "Don't get the impression that this is in and of itself a great run-stopping LB corps. Their effectiveness is predicated entirely on the front four's ability to win the battle at the line of scrimmage." That was Jon Morse of BOTC. Look for Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith trying to bruise their linebackers, as well.
- Bill Snyder has a career record of 177-90-1. Before he came to coach Kansas State in 1989, KSU was dubbed "Futility U" by Sports Illustrated and had a collective record of 299-510 over 93 years. Because of a brief retirement, and then a return to K-State, he now coaches in a stadium named after him.