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December 8, 2013

Wolverines, Wildcats looking forward to bowl game

Michigan will play Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Dec. 28 at 10:15 p.m. EST.

The Wildcats, coming off a Big 12 Championship last year, stumbled early, going 2-4 in their first six games, including an upset loss to North Dakota State, before winning five of their last six down the stretch.

The Wolverines seem to be going in the opposite direction. After a 6-1 start, they dropping four of five games during a brutal November slate, including a 42-41 heartbreaker to Ohio State to end the regular season.

Despite a disappointing finish, Michigan is excited to play one more game.

"The University of Michigan and our football program is excited and honored to represent the Big Ten and our university at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl," said Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who participated in a Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl teleconference Sunday night, while head coach Brady Hoke was traveling back from a recruiting trip. "We know we're playing a great opponent. Any team that is coached by Bill Snyder and what he does with his football teams, we know we have a big challenge.

"It's exciting for our team to have the opportunity to finish with one more game. It has been a disappointing season in some ways, because we have lost a number of games by very close scores. Playing in this game gives us the opportunity to do what we have to do."

The matchup was announced late Sunday night, but Mattison had already watched a couple Kansas State games on film by the time he hopped on the teleconference.

The Wildcat offense, replacing Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Collin Klein, struggled in the first half of the season, but eventually found its footing.

Kansas State used the two-headed monster of Daniel Sams and Jake Waters at quarterback. Sams added a running threat, racking up 784 yards on 148 carries (5.3 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. Waters was the more prominent passer, hitting 138-of-233 attempts for 2,198 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Running back John Hubert compiled 968 yards on 182 attempts (5.3 yards per carry) and nine scores for Kansas State coach Bill Snyder's 7-5 squad.

"I had a chance to watch them tonight," Mattison said. "Coach Snyder is a tremendous football coach. They will always be very, very well-coached. To win five of the last six games while averaging 35 points a game, you know their offense has the ability to score on anybody. Hubert is an excellent running back. You don't gain 1,000 yards against the people they've played if you're not a great back, and it also means they have a great offensive line.

"With the two quarterbacks, some people might say the one doesn't throw, but he throws well enough. They have excellent quarterbacks, and they're getting better all the time. Then when you bring in Sams, and he can hurt you so much with his feet. The dual threat gives them a very potent attack."

For Snyder, the two-quarterback offense hasn't been ideal, but it is what's working - so he'll stick with it.

"We don't do anything differently," Snyder said. "In some cases, we don't do it as well, and in other cases, some people have stepped up. Colin is a tremendous young guy, and he meant a lot to our football program. He could throw the ball better than some people thought he could, but of more significance, he was a quality leader and really provided great inspiration for the other young people in our program The transition, I think we have good, young guys playing that position. They're still developing. They have a ways to go, but they have made a good deal of progress."

The Wolverines and Wildcats have never met on the gridiron.

But Snyder faced Michigan eight times as the offensive coordinator of the Hayden Frey-led Iowa Hawkeyes from 1979-88.

After that experience, Snyder is familiar with the Michigan program.

"I have the greatest respect for Bo Schembechler," he said. "He was the building block for all the success Michigan has had. I have great admiration for him. It was always a very challenging time to compete against them. They were a tremendous football team, and they always have been. I admire what they have done for college football, the kind of program they have, a class program."

For the Wolverines, the game presents a chance to bounce back after a tough end to the season - and bring some momentum into 2014.

"You emphasize why you didn't win the games you felt you should have won, and you make sure during the extra bowl practices that you don't allow that to happen again," Mattison said. "The great thing about bowl games is you get a chance to have so many more practices. We're a very young football team, and it gets our young guys another 15 or 12 practices to get better and improve on the mistakes they have made and that is the real plus of this bowl game."

The Wolverines are young - and the extra bowl practices will be huge, moving forward.

"We're very, very excited about our football team," Mattison said "We feel very strongly that the young men we have recruited in the three years we have been here are the right young men. Now, it's getting that experienced. Even though, getting through a whole season, you should have that experience, you can't put a price tage on these 15 more practices, where you can gain on individual drills and become a smarter football player. A lot of these young guys have earned the right to play, and it didn't start at the first game of the season. To have the chance to play another game and get these extra practices is tremendous for us."

Of course, things are a little rushed this season.

The teams play in late December, as opposed to January. And with the extended regular season, because of five weekends in November this calendar year, everything is pushed back.

The teams must rush to get their allotted practices in - and that may be to the detriment of the young players on the roster.

"It's a hard period of time," Snyder said. "We have practiced, but we have not practiced for the bowl game, because we didn't know who we were going to play. It's hard to work it in, because we will be going through finals here before long. I don't want to interfere with the young people preparing themselves for finals. We kind of have to pick and choose, practice at odd hours. We can't practice every day we'd like. Because the season goes so much longer now, there is less time to prepare for a bowl. We won't get in all the practices I would like to be able to.

"The real significant value of it is to be able to have these extra practices for young people who will be with you the next year and the year after that. But with less and less time to do it, you can't get too far away from your bowl preparation, and consequently, you can't spend as much time preparing the younger players."


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