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December 28, 2013

Keys To The Game: U-M vs. KSU

Keys To The Game

The Basics
Quote of the Week
The Teams: Kansas State (7-5) vs. Michigan (7-5)
The History: The two teams have never met on the gridiron.
The Depth Charts: Kansas State and Michigan
The Place: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
The Time: 10:15 p.m. EST
The Line: Michigan +3
The Broadcast: ESPN
The Updates: Follow the game on The Fort or follow us on Twitter: Borton, Balas, Spath, Reid and Sullivan.

"It's not just about Shane, it's about 11 guys. I know there's going to be a lot of scrutiny, a lot of pressure that the media puts on him. If he doesn't focus on that, focuses on what he needs to focus on, he'll be fine."

-- Fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan on freshman quarterback Shane Morris, who will make his first-career start, replacing redshirt junior Devin Gardner, who injured his left foot against Ohio State in the regular-season finale.
The Essentials
By the Numbers
  • Snyder Talks Michigan: John Borton is in Arizona, and he spoke with Kansas State coach Bill Snyder about the Wolverines. Click here to see what he had to say.
  • Game Preview: TheWolverine.com speaks with Kansas State play-by-play commentator Wyatt Thompson about Saturday's game. Click here to listen to the podcast.
  • Staff Predictions: Michigan is throwing a true freshman in at quarterback for his first-career start. That certainly turns the tides in KSU's favor, in some eyes. Click here to see which of us picked Michigan.
  • Matchups: TheWolverine.com takes a look at the most important matchups on the field, the importance of a stron game from U-M's offensive line. Click here to read the rest.
1: Michigan games that has been played in the state of Arizona, a 27-23 win over Nebraska in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium, the same location as this year's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
2.6: Michigan's average margin of victory in 42 bowl appearances. The Wolverines are 20-22 in those games.
27: Teams Michigan has faced in bowl games, including Kansas State. The Wolverines' most frequent bowl opponent is USC. The two teams have played eight times (all in the Rose Bowl), with USC holding a 6-2 advantage.
330: Combine starts by the senior class, which the Wolverines will lose after Saturday night's game against the Wildcats.

Five Players To Watch
1. Shane Morris, freshman quarterback: Michigan fans have been waiting years for this moment, and now that it is here, most are pretty nervous. With redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner leading the offense, everyone figured the earliest Morris would be thrust into the spotlight would be next season, if Gardner exploded in 2013 and left early for the NFL Draft. But Gardner is injured, and ready or not, Morris will be in charge of the offense Saturday night. No one quite knows what to expect - but whatever happens, it should make for an intriguing subplot to the game.

2. The Michigan Interior Offensive Line: The Wolverines got much better play from their offensive line in a season-ending 42-41 loss to Ohio State. But the Buckeyes still sacked Gardner three times. In the month of November, Michigan surrendered 23 sacks - seven apiece to Michigan State and Nebraska, five to Northwestern, one to Iowa, and three to OSU. And that is with Gardner's mobility. Morris will not be able to evade the rush quite so well - so the line will need to keep his jersey clean as much as possible.

3. Daniel Sams and John Hubert: Sams, a sophomore, is the run-heavy half of Kansas State's one-two punch at quarterback. He has split time with JUCO transfer Jake Waters, the bigger passer of the two. Sams has racked up 784 yards and 11 touchdowns on 148 rushes this year, and he has blossomed into a serious read-option threat, along with running back John Hubert (182 rushes, 968 yards and nine touchdowns). The Wolverines were burned by the read-option big time against the Buckeyes. Although KSU's scheme is more akin to Northwestern's or Nebraska's, it still has to be a big concern.

4. Jeremy Gallon, fifth-year senior wide receiver: Gallon is just 47 yards from history. If he gets there against the Wildcats, he will own the Michigan single-season program record for receiving yards, breaking Braylon Edwards' 2004 mark of 1,330 yards. That's incredible. But more importantly, Gallon needs to provide a steady, consistent target for Morris. Gallon's connection with Gardner has been talked about a lot this season, but the receiver will need to get into a rhythm with a new quarterback to help the offense get into gear Saturday.

5. Blake Slaughter, senior linebacker: Michigan ball carriers will be very faimilar with Slaughter by the end of Saturday's game. The Kansas State defense runs through the highly productive senior, who is one of just 68 players in the country with 100 or more tackles on the season (he ranks fourth in the Big 12 with 103 tackles in 2013). Slaughter has added six tackles for loss, three sacks, one interception, three pass breakups and one forced fumble.

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