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.

Louisville: 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl Champions

If the Russell Athletic Bowl proves to be Teddy Bridgewater's final collegiate performance, then he could not have picked a finer way to go out, returning to his home state of Florida and leading the Louisville Cardinals to an easy 36-9 win.
It did not start out as a blowout, though. Indeed, when Bridgewater was tackled in the end zone by Deon Bush for a safety just five minutes into the game, it looked like the Hurricanes were ready to wreck some havoc in their return to bowl season.
Turns out, they only had a light drizzle in store.
Bridgewater shook off that initial gaffe to put up yet another fantastically efficient performance -- the kind that have become so commonplace in his career.
After those first two Miami points, it was all Cardinals the rest of the way. Louisville scored 22 consecutive points to close the half, thanks to three John Wallace field goals from 36, 43 and 42 yards, and then a pair of Bridgewater touchdown passes.
The safety and a Wallace missed extra point proved to be the only Louisville mistakes in the first two quarters, and as fantastic as Bridgewater was in the first half, the Cardinals' defense was just as good. In just 30 minutes of action, they sacked Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris three times, pressured him on at least four occasions, forced Miami into an 0-for-7 on third downs, held them to 82 total yards and picked up a Morris fumble for good measure.
Coming out of the half, Bridgewater continued to pound away at the Hurricanes, scoring with a touchdown pass to Senorise Perry and again on a one-yard run on fourth-and-goal. That pushed the lead up to 36-2, and although Miami cut into things a bit on a short touchdown from Gus Edwards, it was merely window dressing.
The Cardinals ended up as Russell Athletic Bowl champions, picking up a 12th win.
Afterward, Bridgewater was asked about his intentions in regards to the NFL draft, and appeared to tip his hand a bit, although he made sure to mention his decision was not final yet.
Box Score Hero: Who else? It had to be Bridgewater, who threw for a career high 447 yards and three touchdowns. He added one more on the ground.
Rankings Ramifications: Louisville may see a slight rankings bump at the end of bowl season, depending on how things shake out with other teams.
But Did They Cover? The Cardinals were anywhere from 5.5- to 6-point favorites at kickoff, up from 3 when the line opened. They covered easily.

North Carolina: 2013 Belk Bowl Champions

North Carolina was one of the best teams in the ACC during the second half of the season and carried that momentum into its bowl game. The Tar Heels showed little problem with the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Belk Bowl, defeating Tommy Tuberville's squad 39-17 in Charlotte.
On third-and-goal, Romar Morris burst through the hole and into the end zone to give North Carolina the 7-0 lead. Two drives later, Kareem Martin broke through two Bearcat offensive linemen to bring down Brendon Kay in the end zone for a safety. T.J. Loganreturned the ensuing safety punt 78 yards for a touchdown and the Tar Heels suddenly led 16-0 in the first quarter.
The two teams traded scores in the second quarter -- unfortunately for the Bearcats, they traded a field goal for a touchdown. Tony Miliano's 34-yard field goal put Cincinnati on the board, but Marquise Williams' 3-yard touchdown pass to Jack Tabb four minutes later made the score 23-3.
The Tar Heels started out the third quarter with a bang, as Ryan Switzer returned a sky-high punt 86 yards for his fifth punt return touchdown of the season, tying an NCAA record.
Cincinnati tried to make it a game with two of the next three touchdowns, but were stopped short near the goal-line with about ten minutes left in the game. That allowed North Carolina to run down clock and put the game out of reach.
Box Score Hero: T.J. Logan. The running back carried 15 times for 77 yards while also returning three kicks for 120 yards and a touchdown.
Rankings Ramifications: Neither team was ranked, and neither will be.
But Did They Cover? North Carolina was a 3-point favorite, so they did.

Notre Dame: 2013 Pinstripe Bowl Champions

NEW YORK (AP) — This nicely sums up Tommy Rees' Notre Dame career.
The senior threw for 319 yards and no interceptions in his final college game, leading No. 25 Notre Dame to a 29-16 victory against Rutgers that was far from pretty but ultimately successful — and an offensive lineman won the MVP award.
"I was giving Tommy a hard time," said senior tackle Zack Martin, who took home the award. "I think he got snubbed a little bit."
Rees finished four years of football for the Fighting Irish packed with both memorable and forgettable moments with a solid performance, going 27 for 47. He has been "The Closer," rallying Notre Dame to victories with late drives, and "Turnover Tommy," making crushing mistakes at the most inopportune times during his time in South Bend, Ind.
For his finale, against one of the worst pass defenses in the nation, Rees was mistake free and productive. He missed some throws that could have broken open the game, but, typically, he persevered.
"I'm a Tommy Rees fan for life," coach Brian Kelly said.
Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals for the Fighting Irish (9-4), who finished their follow-up season to last year's run to the national championship game a long way from the BCS — facing a two-touchdown underdog trying to avoid a losing record.
Notre Dame's play was less than inspired — Kelly said about a dozen players were fighting a flu bug — but the win prevented the Irish from finishing with eight victories for the third time in his four seasons.
"A good season that could have been a great season," Kelly said.
Notre Dame's TJ Jones scored on an 8-yard run in the first quarter and Rutgers star Brandon Coleman answered with a 14-yard touchdown catch soon after. Tarean Folston's 3-yard touchdown run with 3:38 in the fourth made it 26-16 and finally gave the Irish a comfortable lead.
On the slick turf at Yankee Stadium, the Pinstripe Bowl turned into a field-goal kicking contest. Brindza was 5 for 6. Kyle Federico made 3 of 3 for the Scarlet Knights (6-7).
The Irish dominated in yards (494-237) and time of possession (38:49) but bogged down in the red zone repeatedly.
"I loved the way we were able to stay calm and stay within our offense and continue to kind of monotonously move the ball down the field," Rees said.
Twice Notre Dame put together double-digit play drives that ended in short field goals for Brindza. A 15-play, 90-yard march that started in the third quarter and ended in the fourth with Brindza's 25-yarder made it 19-13 Notre Dame with 12:46 left.
"I love the fourth quarter," Brindza said. "That's pretty much what a kicker's job is supposed to be."
Brindza's third field goal, a 26-yarder with 6:03 left in the third quarter, gave Notre Dame a 16-13 lead — after the Irish caught a break. Brindza had missed from 36 yards but Rutgers was flagged for running into the kicker to give him a second, easier, try.
"We thought we played good red zone defense and we could make them kick a few field goals and attempt some field goals, maybe we could block one and then win the game in the fourth quarter," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "We were kind of poised to do that."
Notre Dame improved to 17-6-3 at Yankee Stadium, though this ballpark in the Bronx is only a few years old and across the street from where the original House that Ruth built sat for decades.
"It's great to be in New York," Kelly told what was left of bowl record crowd of 47,122 during the postgame trophy ceremony on the field after the Irish had sung the alma mater with the band in right-center field, near the Yankees bullpen.
The Fighting Irish played the first football game in the new stadium back in 2010. Rees, a freshman then, helped the Irish beat Army and got to use Derek Jeter's locker. Called upon to lead the Irish this year after Everett Golson was suspended from school for academic cheating, Rees surpassed 3,000 yards through the air and became one of the most prolific passers in school history, making the most of his limited physical tools.
Senior quarterback Chas Dodd, whose career has been similar to Rees' in terms of ups and downs, finished with 156 yards passing for Rutgers.
"What we saw with their defense was just what we knew we would see," Dodd said. "We had a game plan ready to attack it. We just weren't able to because of our execution."