Perhaps Michigan hadn't fully recovered from its heartbreaking loss to rival Ohio State in the regular-season finale. Maybe Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder's all-encompassing wizardry took control. Or maybe the Wolverines' simply started a true freshman quarterback in a bowl game against a quality Big 12 opponent. Whatever the reason, Kansas State's defense dictated its 31-14 win over Michigan in Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, where the Wolverines simply couldn't find any groove on offense.
The Wildcats' defense came in allowing a modest 367 yards per game (No. 33 nationally) and 23.7 points per game (No. 35), but Michigan had trouble all night moving the ball against Snyder's crew, especially on the ground. The Wolverines managed only two field goals in the first half and headed into intermission down 21-6 thanks largely to a sorry rushing effort through two quarters. Somehow, tight end Devin Funchess was the team's leading rusher at halftime with 14 yards on two rushes. The program limped to a final tally of 65 yards on the ground on 15 carries for 4.3 yards per carry.
Of course, it didn't help that Michigan entered the game without its starting quarterback at its disposal. Devin Gardner missed the contest with turf toe, leaving true freshman Shane Morris to start in Gardner's stead. Morris had attempted only nine career passes prior to Saturday, and the Wolverines' passer was anything but spectacular (24-of-38 passing for 196 yards and one pick) while failing to lead Michigan on a touchdown drive until 1:15 left in the game.
While the Wolverines struggled on offense, Kansas State did just enough to keep things out of reach, especially through the air. Jake Waters was stellar for much of the night, completing 21-of-27 passes for 271 yards and three scores. His favorite target, wide receiver Tyler Lockett, caught 10 balls for 116 yards and three touchdowns -- all three in the first half. Waters also rushed for five first downs. As a unit the Wildcats were efficient against the Wolverines' own defense, averaging 6.56 yards per play and converting seven of their 11 third down.
This obviously wasn't the way Michigan coach Brady Hoke wanted the season to end, especially after his team started the year 5-0. Questions have surrounded Hoke's job security for much of the second half of this season, and those questions will grow louder now that the Wolverines capped the coach's worst season, record-wise, in Ann Arbor (7-6). Michigan AD Dave Brandon issued a vote of confidence for Hoke last month, so it will be interesting to see what unfolds now that Hoke's record in both of the last two seasons have been worse than the previous campaign. The atmosphere surrounding Michigan might be bleak, but Kansas State can head into the offseason with momentum. It seems like so long ago that the Wildcats started the season 2-4. Now the program claimed its eighth victory of the year and its first bowl win since 2002, snapping a five-game bowl losing streak. The much-respected Bill Snyder can tip his hat to a successful season in which he had to replace a Heisman Trophy finalist, Collin Klein, at quarterback.