Saturday, December 28, 2013

Kansas State: 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Champions


TEMPE, Ariz. — Kansas State’s 31-14 victory over Michigan on Saturday in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is the type of game that will be remembered for years to come in Wildcat circles.
It had everything.
For starters, K-State ended an ugly five-game bowl losing streak that dated back to 2002. Players won’t have to answer questions about their poise or toughness the next time they head into the postseason. Proving they could win in this setting was their top priority. But they ended up accomplishing more.
This was also one of the Wildcats’ most dominant efforts of the season, the type of victory that came with style points. Tyler Lockett tied a school record with three touchdown catches, Jake Waters showed off his arm on a national stage and K-State’s defense looked strong from start to finish.
Throw in the fact that that the Wildcats did all that against one of the most storied programs in college football in front of 53,284 at Sun Devil Stadium and they were left with an experience that is hard to beat.
They could see it coming. Perhaps that was the best part.
K-State announced early on that it was serious about winning its first bowl game in a decade. The Wildcats scored first, took a 14-3 lead in the first quarter and held a 21-6 advantage at halftime.
They were firmly in control. And that was a welcome change.
Before Saturday, K-State had never scored more than nine points in the first quarter of a bowl. The Wildcats had also trailed from start to finish in their last two bowl losses. This was the first time they had possessed a lead in the postseason since the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl.
The Wildcats, 8-5, started strong behind three touchdown passes from Waters to Lockett and a defense that held the Wolverines, 7-6, to field goals and punts.
That combination led to confidence, which turned into momentum, and eventually became a victory.
It all started with a textbook K-State touchdown drive. After receiving the opening kickoff, the Wildcats marched 75 yards in 14 plays, converting four third downs and eating up 7 minutes, 48 seconds of clock along the way. The drive was capped the drive by a 6-yard TD catch by Lockett.
Michigan, behind freshman quarterback Shane Morris, looked poised to tie the game on the ensuing drive. The Wolverines completed several short passes and drove into the red zone, but K-State’s defense tightened near the goal line and prevented tight end Devin Funchess from hauling in a jump ball in the end zone. Michigan had to settle for a field goal.
When K-State got the ball back it quickly found the end zone when Waters lofted a pass over coverage into the hands of Lockett for a 29-yard score that gave the Wildcats a 14-3 lead.
Michigan once again threatened to answer with a touchdown of its own, but ended up kicking another field goal. K-State focused its efforts on stuffing the run and dared Morris, who started his first game in place of injured Devin Gardner, to beat it with his arm. Morris was unable to.
When Waters hit Glenn Gronkowski for a 46-yard gain, and then connected with Lockett for an 8-yard touchdown with 4:30 remaining in the second quarter that gave K-State a 21-6 lead, Michigan carried the look of a defeated team.
At halftime, the Wolverines had gained 131 yards, with only 10 coming on the ground, while Lockett was on his way to a monster game. If not for a dropped pass in the end zone from Daniel Sams in the second half, Lockett would have broken numerous K-State bowl receiving records.
In many ways, that play summed up the second half. K-State was continually in position to blow the doors off Michigan, but couldn’t take advantage of scoring opportunities.
A promising drive in the third quarter ended with a missed field goal by Ian Patterson. Another ended with a 22-yard field goal from Patterson.
The way K-State’s defense played, frustrating Morris and forcing Michigan into three-and-outs, those missed opportunities didn’t impact the bottom line.
John Hubert ran 1 yard for a touchdown with 2:25 left for K-State’s final score.
It was a fitting conclusion to a season that started slowly, but became successful. As difficult as it must have been for Bill Snyder to watch the Wildcats lose four of their first six games, his team showed improvement every week.
That was most evident in the postseason.
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