While this year’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl may not be the offensive shootout many fans are hopeful for, both squads know how to move the ball and put points on the board. Who has the edge offensively, though? Let us break it down position by position to see how the K-State Wildcats and Michigan Wolverines match up.
Michigan junior quarterback Devin Gardner didn’t get off to a great start in 2013, throwing eight interceptions in the team’s first four games. However, Gardner has bounced back mightily, throwing just three picks in his last eight contests, while amassing nearly 3,000 yards through the air with 21 passing touchdowns.
The junior has finished five games this season with a quarterback rating of 80 or higher, including Nov. 30’s close loss to the, then, third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. In that game, Gardner threw for 451 yards and four touchdowns, along with zero picks. The latter stat extended his streak of no interceptions to four-straight games, and just one in his last six.
However, reports are the Gardner has been hobbled with a foot injury and got off the plane in Arizona in a walking boot and using crutches. If Gardner can not play, it’d be up to freshman Shane Morris.
The K-State Wildcats have been led all season at quarterback by the duo of junior Jake Waters and sophomore Daniel Sams.
Waters has been at the helm of the passing attack, though, dropping back 233 times to Sams’ 52. The junior, in his first season with the squad, has thrown for 2,198 yards and 15 touchdowns, along with six rushing touchdowns. Interceptions have plagued Waters, though, with nine on the year and four in his last three games.
The Wildcats have used Sams primarily has a runner, despite his impressive 73.1 percent completion rate. The sophomore from Louisiana has thrown for 452 yards and four touchdowns, though also throwing for the same amount of interceptions. Sams has only had one game all year were he fell below the “average” quarterback rating scoring of 50, which ironically enough was in a win for the Wildcats against the West Virginia Mountaineers on Oct. 26.
The Wolverines have struggled to solidify their rushing attack all season, at least consistently. Their leading rusher, senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, has just 646 yards on the year and is only averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
Behind Toussaint for Michigan is Gardner. The quarterback has 483 yards on the season, but has only been able to get 2.9 yards per carry.
However, Michigan has been able to find the end zone with Toussaint and Gardner. The senior running back has 12 touchdowns on the year, while Gardner himself has 11. This is a result of a strong rushing attack in the red zone, especially with Gardner, who has scored consistently on the ground all season.
Like the Wolverines, K-State’s ground game has been led by a running back and quarterback.
Senior John Hubert has impressed both Bill Snyder and the Big 12 with 968 yards on just 182 touches — an average of 5.3 yards per carry. Hubert has also found the end zone nine times this season, including once at Kansas where he had a career day with 220 yards on the ground.
Sams has been on Hubert’s tail on year, though, high stepping his way to 784 yards on the ground with 11 touchdowns to show for it. Like Hubert, Sams has been both a consistent scorer and a rusher that can get a lot per carry — the sophomore averages 5.3 yards per rush himself.
Michigan has been led all year at the wide receiver position by All-Big Ten second-team pick, senior Jeremy Gallon. The Florida native has stretched the field despite his 5-foot-8 stature with multiple 100-yard performances, including a Michigan-best 14 receptions and 369 receiving yards against the Indiana Hoosiers on Oct. 19.
And Gallon has had to do it all at wide receiver for the Wolverines. The next-highest receiver on the team is their tight end, and all the way behind him is freshman Jehu Chesson. Chesson has caught just 13 passes on the year for 213 yards and one touchdown.
K-State, on the other hand, has had two major targets on the year, junior Tyler Lockett and senior Tremaine Thompson.
Lockett, a second-team All-American, has had a standout year with 1,146 yards and eight touchdowns. The junior has had six 100-yard receiving games, his best coming on Nov. 23 in a loss to the Oklahoma Sooners. In that contest, Lockett caught 12 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns, and broke the K-State all-purpose yards record for a single game with 440.
In his final season with the Wildcats, wideout Tremaine Thompson has been a viable option for both Waters and Sams, and has complemented the play of Lockett. The senior has totaled 495 yards and five touchdowns, including an average of 17.7 yards per catch.
Thompson has found a groove in the second half of the year, most notably between Oct. 26 and Nov. 16 where he found the end zone once in each game during that span.
Previously mentioned, Michigan’s second-leading receiver is their tight end, sophomore Devin Funchess. The 6-foot-5 sophomore is already a pro prospect with 727 yards and six touchdowns on the year. Funchess isn’t just used the short passing game either — his 47 receptions and total yards equal out to 15.5 per catch.
Despite having two tight ends standing 6-foot-5 or taller, including 6-foot-8 senior Andre McDonald, K-State hasn’t been productive at the position. Junior Zach Trujillo has been the “standout” at the position, hauling in 111 yards and one touchdown on just five receptions.
However, Trujillo has missed six games for the Wildcats this year, so for him to lead the tight end position says a lot about how much Snyder relies on his wideouts.
Michigan’s offensive line has had a roller coaster-type year, showing signs of solidarity one week and then disappointment the next. Head coach Brady Hoke and offensive line coach Darrell Funk have mixed and matched players at each position throughout the year, including freshman guard Kyle Kalis. The Wolverines have found stable play, however, in senior offensive tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield.
K-State’s offensive line too has had periods of success and struggle, the latter of which coming when defenses would stack the box with eight players. However, the group has stayed the same for the most part, anchored by honorable mention All-Big 12 tackle, senior Cornelius Lucas. The Wildcats’ front has looked good as of late, and will look to use that moment in Saturday’s bowl game.