Friday, December 27, 2013

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Q&A with Bring On The Wildcats' Jon Morse

As kickoff of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl draws ever nearer, Michigan fans know what they would like to see from their team.  What they hope happens on Saturday, at least.  But how does Kansas State factor in the emergence of Shane Morris as the starting quarterback in place of Devin Gardner?  Do the Wildcats have an offense capable of picking apart Michigan's defense like Indiana so vicerously did?  Or to run literally run all over the Wolverines defense as the Buckeyes did?

These questions may loom in the minds of many Michigan fans.  Do help gain a better scope into the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, I caught up with Jon Morse from Bring On The Cats for a Q&A to see how Kansas State will be approaching this game.  

Q: After losing Collin Klein, growing pains were expected for Kansas State, but an early loss to North Dakota State of the FCS was not.  Kansas State goes into the BWW Bowl with a 7-5 record just one  year after an 11-1 campaign.  Is there more to the Wildcats' drop off than Klein's departure, or is it mainly the product of K-State working with the cards they've been dealt?

Jon Morse: There's a lot more to the dropoff than Klein's departure.  K-State lost 10 of 11 starters on defense, and the Wildcats are quite literally two fourth quarter defensice stops from being 9-3 instead of 7-5 (and a healthy Tyler Lockett away from 10-2).  Early in the season, fan discussions regarding the quarterback controversy were guaranteed to be heated, but discussions about whether the offense or defense was more to blame for the early meltdown were just as explosive.  But ultimately, losing Collin Klein -- while a huge loss -- was never the key issue this season. 

Q: I would imagine that most Michigan fans, myself included, are not all that familiar with K-State's offense.  The Wildcats do feature a two-QB rotation, though, that Michigan has had relative success against this season.  Northwestern employed multiple QBs vs. Michigan late in the season and Nebraska did the same a week earlier.  The Wolverines were well-versed in defending multiple QBs as Connecticut, Minnesota and Central Michigan all trotted out more than one QB against Michigan.  How will K-State use their QB tandem to attack Michigan in ways they have not seen prior in the season?

Jon Morse: Honestly, while a lot has been made of the dual quarterback situation, at this stage of the season it's pretty much Jake Waters' show.  Daniel Sams saw almost no action in the final quarter of the season.  While Waters will still toss a pick here and there, since the Texas game he's learned to hold onto the football when getting hit.  Daniel Sams is still pretty turnover-prone (especially considering the ratio of turnovers to plays).  So you probably will see Sams in action on at least one series, but the simple fact right now is that K-State has an offense which functions both on the ground and through the air with Waters in the game, and one that has ceased to function in either respect with Sams.
Kansas State QBs Jake Waters and Daniel Sams

A lot of this simply isn't Daniel's "fault", I should note; it's just that the play-calling is so obvious with Sams in the game that defenses just stuff the box and dare the Wildcats to throw.  John Hubert, who is a pretty good back, has been an utter non-factor when on the field at the same time as Sams.  He's rushed for 968 yards, and I'm pretty sure about 900 of those yards have come with Waters under center...because with Waters, defenses can't sell out the run unless the want to get burned over and over on deep balls.  Also, the staff finally figured out that Waters is not Klein and stopped calling designed QB runs into the line, which Waters isn't good at.  What he is good at is gaining yards on the ground both in bootleg and scrambling situations.

Q: Apart from the quarterback play, Michigan has struggled to rush the passer this season, thus putting Wolverines defensive backs in impossible decisions.  How does K-State's offensive line stack up against a struggling UM pass rush?

Jon Morse: The offensive line is talented, and forms the bulk of the Wildcats' returning talent from last year.  Cornelis Lucas, despite a shaky start to the season, is still projected as a decent draft pick; the rest of the line is still eligible after Saturday and includes two other all-conference selections in B.J. Finney and Cody Whitehair.  Further, Boston Stiverson missed the first half of the season, but is now back on the field.  This is probably going to be Michigan's greatest concern.  If the Wolverines can't pressure Waters, he'll be able to pick the secondary apart just like he did against Oklahoma.  Even if they do get pressure, if they can't get it quickly Waters can still scramble for yardage.

Q:  When the pass rush has been on point, though, Michigan's defensive backs have still had only varying degrees of success in one-on-one situations -- Channing Stribling immediately comes to mind.  Does K-State possess the weapons to challenge All-Big Ten corner Blake Countess?
Kansas State WR Tyler Lockett

Jon Morse: Tyler Lockett made both Jason Verrett (TCU) and Aaron Colvin (Oklahoma) look foolish, which is probably answer enough to that question.  Even if Lockett if kept under control, tramaine Thompson remains a mid-range threat and Curry sexton had a lot of similarities to Wes Wekler -- i.e. the guy Waters can almost always seem to find exactly one yard past the sticks in crucial situations.  K-State has also scored what I'd have to say is an inordinate number of long touchdowns on little dump passes to a tight end or to fullback Glenn Gronkowski.; Waters has a move where he'll appear to be running on a draw play and, if a defender is coming up to seal the hole, he'll just stop, pop and lob the ball over the head of my defender.  It's worked for a big gain almost every game in the latter half of the season.  

Q: Any other story lines to look out for when K-State is on offense?

Jon Morse: I've covered most of them already, but the major personal achievement we'll be looking for on Saturday will be John Hubert's 32nd rushing yard of the day.  The senior has rushed for over 900 yards the last to seasons without getting to 1,000; he's got 968 going into the bowl game.  If he can manage 77 yards against Michigan, he'll surpass the 3000-yard mark for his career.  Hubert's sometimes been the forgotten man over the last three years, but it's worth pointing out that in high school he set Waco Midway's single season rushing record.  The guy who held it before him?  LaDainian Tomlinson.

Q: After reviewing Kansas State's 2012 and 2013 roster, it looks like the Wildcats lost the majority of their defense over the offseason.  How has K-State attempted to plug the many holes that were left coming into the season?  Did the pose any schematic problems, or were the Wildcats generally prepared for this to occur?

Jon Morse: Even people familiar with K-State seem to forget that Bill Snyder has always been able to reload a defense rather than having to rebuild it.  This year, while ten starters did move on, for the most part they were all replaced by experienced backups.  I would say that they were as prepared as they could be, but there were definite growing pains early in the season.  Arthur Brown was, of course, simply not replaceable, but Blake Slaughter -- who voluntarily took a redshirt last year so that he could start this year rather than wasting his senior season on the sideline -- has done a workmanlike job of taking Brown's place at middle linebacker.  And the emergence of Ryan Mueller did a lot to solidify the front seven.

Q: It has been covered ad nauseam, but Michigan's offensive line is bad.  Really bad.  Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller is the opposite of really bad.  Is he going to reign havoc on Michigan this Saturday?  Despite switching from a right-handed QB to a natural left, Michigan is keeping their starting tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield at their usual positions.  What needs to be done to slow Mueller down, and is he the only one to worry about from K-State's D-Line?
Kansas State DE Ryan Mueller

Jon Morse:  Mueller is a beast.  He's not the greatest physical specimen you'll ever see at defensive end, but he plays at such an intensity that he beats guys he seemingly has no business beating.  He's a tenacious rusher, and has also proven to be effective up-field if he's prevented from penetrating.  Michigan will want to have Lewan trying to handle Mueller, but that won't help if K-State just switches things up on the line.  The other guys on the line don't get the press, but they're capable as well, especially against offensive lines that are thin.

Q: With true freshman Shane Morris starting, conventional wisdom leads one to believe that Michigan will stress the running game on Saturday.  Is this a good idea vs. the Wildcats?  How do K-State's linebackers shape up, and is there any argument to be made for letting it rip against the Wildcats' secondary?

Jon Morse: Running the ball is the only way to make the current iteration of the Wildcat defense look bad.  Oklahoma destroyed the Cats, and even Kansas was able to move the ball effectively on the ground.  The linebacking corps is solid, and won't be beaten by mistakes, but they aren't the fastest bunch of guys you'll ever see.  Backs who are able to get through the line of scrimmage often manage to gain more than five yards.  Sometimes a lot more.  I would not advise trying to beat K-State through the air, though.  Only one team has done that this year, and that was Baylor; even then, the Wildcats were pretty effective in halting the short passing game, only faltering when Bryce Petty went deep to one of his track stat wideouts -- but even then, that was aided by K-State selling out to neutralize Lache Seastrunk.  When remaining in a balanced defense, the Wildcat secondary has been more than up to the task.

Q: With all of this setting the stage for Michigan's matchup with Kansas State, how do you see the BWW Bowl playing out?  Any predictions?

Jon Morse:  I've now answered this question a few times from Wolverine writers, and I seem to vacillate depending on the general outlook of the writer I'm dealing with.  I think this is probably a touchdown win for K-State, with the Wildcats effectively exploiting Michigan's secondary and thus setting up the ground game successfully (you know, the reverse of how things are supposed to work).  I'm also optimistic about K-State's ability to force Michigan into a running mode, especially with Morris having to start.  However, I am not at all sold on K-State's ability to stop that running game once they've forced the issue, which means I expect Michigan to be able to score.  I just think the Wildcats will be able to outscore them, and I'm looking at something in the neighborhood of 31-24.

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