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Miami vs. Louisville: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl

Teddy Bridgewater put an appropriate exclamation mark—maybe—on his scintillating collegiate career Saturday night, dominating the school he once verbally committed to in the state he grew up in.

The consensus No. 1 quarterback in the 2014 class (should he declare) torched the Miami Hurricanes to the tune of a career-high 447 passing yards and four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) on, as his No. 18 Louisville Cardinals took home the Russell Athletic Bowl in impressive fashion, 36-9. 

After being sacked for a safety on the team's first drive of the game, Bridgewater absolutely carved up Al Golden's defense, leading scoring drives on seven of the team's next eight possessions. 

He fired throws into tight windows, put touch on passes when necessary and made an array of plays with his legs, as the Cardinals tallied 554 yards of total offense and cruised to an easy victory despite committing nine penalties to Miami's two. 

While Bridgewater spread the ball to 10 different receivers with post-Christmas charity, it was talented junior DeVante Parker who was the major beneficiary, hauling in nine passes for 142 yards and this first-half touchdown:

Of course, although Bridgewater was the main attraction, he wasn't the entire show, as the Cardinals defense was similarly up to the task. Miami was able to muster just 173 total yards on the night and didn't convert a third down on 11 opportunities. 

Through the first 30 minutes, Louisville held the 'Canes to a meager 82 yards, sacked Stephen Morris three times and forced a turnover, helping usher Charlie Strong's team to a comprehensive 22-2 lead at halftime.

WDRB's Eric Crawford reports Strong's feeling after the game:

Miami was able to finally find the end zone when Gus Edwards capped a 55-yard drive with a two-yard score in the fourth quarter, but that wasn't until Louisville had scored 36 unanswered points and absolutely blew the Hurricanes out of the water. 


Player Grades

Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville: A

One sequence late in the second quarter pretty much summed up Bridgewater's performance. 

First, he magnificently alluded pressure and flicked a perfect touch pass on the run to Damian Copeland for 21 yards. Two plays later, he fired a bullet from inside the pocket right on the money to Parker. On the next play, he lobbed a 12-yard touchdown to Michaelee Harris in the back corner of the end zone. 

I'll go ahead and show you the Russell Wilson-like scramble as well as the touchdown throw, because I couldn't decide on one:

If that doesn't sum it up, this tweet from the Russell Athletic Bowl feed should do the trick:



Stephen Morris, Miami: C-

It didn't exactly help when the absence of Duke Johnson, plus an earlier deficit, forced the Hurricanes to become mostly one-dimensional, and it certainly didn't help that Louisville was able to get relentless pressure in the pocket. 

But Morris had a forgettable night. He completed just seven of 15 passes for 67 yards, didn't make many impressive throws and opened himself up to an endless line of jokes:

The senior's draft stock took a major hit on Saturday. 


Marcus Smith, Louisville: A

Louisville's offense was a well-oiled machine, as everyone was making plays: Parker, Damian Copeland, Harris, Senorise Perry, James Quick...the list goes on. But the defense deserves credit. 

And the catalyst of the defensive performance was, ironically enough, former quarterback Marcus Smith. The senior defensive end, who entered the night second in the NCAA with 12.5 sacks, was consistently in the backfield. 

He forced the only turnover of the game (a fumble) with his first sack, took down Morris on 4th-and-9 on his second sack and pressured Morris into forced throws on several other occasions. 

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5 Penn State Nittany Lions Who Need to Step Up in 2014

For two years running, Penn State has exceeded expectations and finished above .500. But with Sports Illustrated recently suggesting that Bill O’Brien is heading to the NFL, it doesn’t appear the sledding will get any easier in 2014.

Regardless of who’s coaching the Nittany Lions next season, certain players will need to step up if the team is to equal or improve on last season’s record. Penn State will likely lose some of its best players on either side of the ball including Allen Robinson, Glenn Carson and DaQuan Jones.

So who will need to step up in 2014 in order to replace their production? Read on to find out.

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5 Penn State Nittany Lions Who Need to Step Up in 2014

For two years running, Penn State has exceeded expectations and finished above .500. But with Sports Illustrated recently suggesting that Bill O’Brien is heading to the NFL, it doesn’t appear the sledding will get any easier in 2014.

Regardless of who’s coaching the Nittany Lions next season, certain players will need to step up if the team is to equal or improve on last season’s record. Penn State will likely lose some of its best players on either side of the ball including Allen Robinson, Glenn Carson and DaQuan Jones.

So who will need to step up in 2014 in order to replace their production? Read on to find out.

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Louisville Punter John Wallace Gets a Personal Foul for Swinging at Miami Player

Louisville Cardinals punter John Wallace did not take kindly to some extra shoving from a Miami Hurricanes player on a kick return and decided to retaliate with multiple swings. He received a dead ball personal foul on the play.

Hat tip to The Big Lead for the GIF. 

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Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl 2013: Live Game Grades, Analysis for Michigan Wolverines


Michigan heads west to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to face Big 12 opponent Kansas State. These two teams will battle against each other for the first time in the Wolverines' 134-year history. The Wildcats enter this game with momentum on their side. KSU has won five of its last six games to finish off the regular season.

Starting quarterback Devin Gardner injured his left foot against Ohio State and will not play in the bowl game. Head coach Brady Hoke will give true freshman Shane Morris his first career start. The lefty QB has only thrown nine passes in two games this season.

On the other side, Kansas State brings a quality offense to the field. Quarterback Jake Waters will look for go-to wide receiver Tyler Lockett, who has over 1,100 receiving yards and eight touchdowns this season. 

Will young QB Shane Morris lead the Wolverines to victory? Or will Kansas State get their first bowl win since 2002?  


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Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl 2013 Michigan vs. Kansas State: Live Score, Highlights

The Michigan Wolverines find themselves in a bind without their starting quarterback Devin Gardner, who likely broke his foot during Team 134's 42-41 season-ending loss to Ohio State. 

However, reinforcements are on the way in the form of Shane Morris, a former 5-star prep who's making his first collegiate start as the Wolverines (7-5) clash with the Kansas State Wildcats (7-5) during Saturday night's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Sun Devils Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. 

Keep your browser locked to this live blog for the latest updates, commentary and analysis as Brady Hoke matches coaching wits with Bill Snyder. 

Coverage starts on ESPN at approximately 10:15 p.m. ET, or immediately following the Russell Athletic Bowl. 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

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James Hurst Injury: Updates on North Carolina OT's Leg and Return

Offensive lineman James Hurst suffered a serious leg injury during North Carolina's Belk Bowl victory over Cincinnati.

The senior left tackle exited his final college game on Saturday, Dec. 28 in clear pain, and the initial news is not good regarding the pro prospect.

The News & Observer's Andrew Carter was informed that Hurst broke his leg, but it was not displaced.

James Hurst has a broken left leg, #UNC spokesman tells us in the press box. "Non-displaced," though. Fractured fibula.

— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) December 29, 2013

Carter added that the news could have been worse, but there is currently no timeline for his healing period.

In other words, Hurst's broken leg could have been worse. Still not good, obviously. No word on how long recovery process is expected to be.

— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) December 29, 2013

Hurst, who earned the starting job during his freshman year, started the season by stymieing highly touted South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in the season opener. 

The timing could not be any worse for the 6'7", 305-pound lineman. The NFL draft is coming soon, and fear of a significant ailment could send Hurst's draft stock plummeting.

Stay tuned for updates on the severity of Hurst's leg injury.

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Cincinnati vs. North Carolina: 10 Things We Learned in 2013 Belk Bowl

North Carolina beat up Cincinnati 39-17 to win the 2013 Belk Bowl. It was the Tar Heels' second bowl win in four years and the Bearcats' first bowl loss since 2009. The game wasn't as competitive as expected, which was a real downer considering the hype heading into the matchup.

But with both teams' seasons now in the books, it's time to look at what we learned.

Among other things, one coach left for another program, Cincinnati has work to do on the offensive line, and North Carolina has a bright, bright future. 

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Notre Dame Football Busts out NaeNae Dance After Pinstripe Bowl Win

Notre Dame finished 9-4 on the season following a 29-16 win over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. To celebrate, the Fighting Irish busted out a NaeNae dance on the field. 

Hat tip to College Spun for the video. 

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Cincinnati vs. UNC: Score, Grades and Analysis from Belk Bowl 2013

The Belk Bowl has come to an end, and it was all North Carolina for the duration. The Tar Heels came out victorious over the Cincinnati Bearcats by a score of 39-17, securing a winning record for the season.

North Carolina's secondary was able to contain Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay nicely over the course of the game. Kay was only able to complete 15 of his 35 passing attempts for 181 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.

This made the Bearcats offense completely one-dimensional.

Cincinnati was able to find some room to maneuver on the ground, as it piled up 168 yards on 36 carries; however, that's about as good as things were able to get.

The Bearcats were able to out gain the Tar Heels in total yardage, as they accumulated 349 total yards against the 345 of North Carolina. Ultimately, the difference in this game was special teams play, which led to fantastic field position for the Tar Heels.

Romar Morris got things going for North Carolina, as he punched in a two-yard touchdown run with 5:40 remaining in the first quarter. Soon after, Kareem Martin was able to bring Kay down in the end zone for a sack, putting the Tar Heels up 9-0.

Then, the North Carolina special teams took over.

First, T.J. Logan took a kick return 78 yards to to house, giving the Tar Heels a 16-0 lead. Later, following a Cincinnati field goal and a Jack Tabb three-yard touchdown reception, it was Ryan Switzer who returned a punt 86 yards for a score.

At this point, North Carolina found itself up by a score of 29-3 and didn't look back.

Throughout the remainder of the second half, the teams traded scores. Ralph Abernathy had a nice 15-yard touchdown scamper for the Bearcats; however, shortly after, Morris punched in his second short-yardage touchdown run on the day.

Shaq Washington was able to convert a 10-yard run into a touchdown for Cincinnati, and his score was followed up by a Thomas Moore 40-yard field goal, which was the final score of the game.

It was a big win for the Tar Heels, as their special teams units were able to become the difference-makers in this contest.


Player Grades

Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina

Williams was able to remain efficient enough to utilize short fields and keep the Tar Heels in front throughout Saturday's contest. He completed 19 of his 33 passing attempts for 171 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. Williams also rushed nine times for an additional 46 yards.

He may have not put up extremely gaudy numbers, but due to a balanced offense and stellar special teams play, his effort was more than enough to secure a victory.

Grade: B


Brendon Kay, QB, Cincinnati

Kay had a rough go on Saturday. He was under plenty of duress throughout the game and was not able to get any rhythm going. He completed 15 of 35 attempts for 181 yards and an interception over the game. He was also brought down for a safety.

Kay needed to be on point to get Cincinnati back in the game after North Carolina jumped out to a huge lead. Unfortunately, he was unable to do so, and the Bearcats suffered a loss as a result.

Grade: D


Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina

Switzer was easily the player of the game. His electrifying 86-yard punt return for a touchdown sealed the Bearcats' fate. Not only was he effective on special teams, but he contributed in the passing game as well.

Switzer was able to record three receptions for 22 yards and also rushed one time for eight yards. He has a bright future ahead of him. 

Grade: A+


T.J. Logan, RB, North Carolina

Speaking of dynamic players, running back T.J. Logan saw the brunt of the workload on Saturday and delivered. Logan rushed 15 times for 77 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He also created excitement on special teams by returning a kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown early in the game.

Logan was a huge reason why the Tar Heels were so effective on the ground on Saturday, as the team was able to come away with 174 rushing yards on the game.

Grade: A


Ralph Abernathy, RB, Cincinnati

Abernathy was the workhorse on the ground for Cincinnati on Saturday. He carried 13 times for 67 yards and one touchdown on the day. This was impressive in its own right due to the Bearcats' lackluster passing game.

Abernathy was able to help out as a receiver as well, recording three receptions for 23 yards. This running back showed a great ability to gain tough yards and may have been poised for a big day if the score remained closer early on.

Grade: B


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DeVante Parker Injury: Updates on Louisville WR's Ankle and Recovery

The No. 18 Louisville Cardinals lost their leading receiver DeVante Parker to an ankle injury in the first quarter of the Russell Athletic Bowl vs. the Miami Hurricanes on Dec. 28.

Parker left the field for further examination, per Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal:

#UofL WR DeVante Parker (ankle) now walking to the locker room. Had extended conversation with trainers and limp still noticeable.

— Jeff Greer (@jeffgreer_cj) December 29, 2013

Parker returned in the second quarter, per Adam Lefkoe of WHAS11:

DeVante Parker is back on the field.

— Adam Lefkoe (@WHAS11Lefkoe) December 29, 2013

Almost as soon as Parker returned he caught a 26-yard touchdown from QB Teddy Bridgewater. 

Clearly quarterback Bridgewater's favorite target, the junior had caught 46 passes for 743 yards and 11 touchdowns entering the contest, which gave him the team lead in receiving yards and touchdowns.

2013 also marked Parker's second consecutive year with more than 700 receiving yards and more than 10 scores as he makes his case for the 2014 NFL draft (CBS Sports ranks him as the No. 19 player at his position with a fourth-round grade).


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Arizona State vs. Texas Tech: Why Taylor Kelly Will Shred Red Raiders' Defense

Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly has had a great year as the Sun Devils' signal-caller, and he should finish 2013 with a big game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

The Red Raiders have the fifth-best passing defense in the Big 12, allowing teams to throw for an average of 224.8 yards per game.

Kelly has been efficient through the air and on the ground, though, and should shred Tech's defense.

He threw for 270 yards per game. He also ran for almost 40 yards per game this year, good for second-best on the team. Kelly has developed into a true dual-threat quarterback, and the Red Raiders will certainly have their hands full defending him.

The Sun Devils will have to lean on Kelly heavily in the Holiday Bowl, as their star running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster are still nursing injuries.

Doug Haller of AZCentral.com says it doesn't appear as if Grice will even be able to play:

This means Kelly will have plenty of opportunities to make plays.

Expect ASU to use some exotic packages like it did against Arizona. In ASU's rivalry game against the Wildcats, the Sun Devils used their tight ends a lot in different packages and made tight end De'marieya Nelson a running back.

This kept U of A on its heels all night and allowed Kelly to throw for 274 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 26 yards.

The junior quarterback from Idaho started the season with five straight games throwing for at least 300 yards.

He came back down to earth in the second half of ASU's season but should be able to crack the 300-yard mark in the Holiday Bowl.

A big reason for that is Texas Tech's secondary doesn't really have anyone to match up with Jaelen Strong, and that is a big problem for the Red Raiders. Strong's unique combination of size and speed will allow him to have a monster game. Kelly should be able to throw their back-shoulder fade to perfection all night.

Kelly also has a ton of offensive weapons at his disposal. Texas Tech will be spread too thin trying to defend them all.

The Red Raiders are also at the bottom of the Big 12 with only seven interceptions all year. And they struggle to get to the quarterback.

They rank eighth in the Big 12 in sacks, accumulating only 18 all season. To put that number in perspective, Sun Devil linebacker Carl Bradford has nearly half that much by himself.

ASU as a team has 40 sacks.

This all adds up to Kelly having a career game. He'll have plenty of time in the pocket and has more weapons at his disposal than he'll know what to do with.

Yes, Grice likely won't play, but look at what the Sun Devils did to Arizona.

The Wildcats have a much better defense than Texas Tech, and Arizona State torched them. The Wildcats also shut down Oregon just the week before they played ASU.

Texas Tech's only hope to slow down Kelly is to pressure him, and that task will be left to its linebacking corps.

Sadly for Red Raider nation though, their chances of sacking Kelly look slim. As Haller writes, if all of this comes true, and ASU wins, Kelly will have a mark on his resume most other quarterbacks in ASU history don't have:

If the Sun Devils defeat Texas Tech in Monday’s Holiday Bowl, Kelly would become the first ASU quarterback since Danny White to win multiple bowl games. White helped guide the Sun Devils to Fiesta Bowl wins from 1971-73. Since then no ASU quarterback has won more than once during the bowl season.

Expect Kelly to have a fantastic game as the Sun Devils win the Holiday Bowl.


Stats and information from cfbstats.com unless otherwise indicated.

Robby Baker is a B/R Featured Columnist. You can find his B/R archive here and follow him on Twitter @Robby__Baker.

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Arizona State vs. Texas Tech: Why Taylor Kelly Will Shred Red Raiders' Defense

Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly has had a great year as the Sun Devils' signal-caller, and he should finish 2013 with a big game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

With Belk Bowl Win, North Carolina Emerges as 2014 ACC Coastal Favorite

North Carolina went out and won its first bowl game since the 2010 season, beating Cincinnati 39-17 in the Belk Bowl. Not only was the win a great finish to the 2013 campaign, but more importantly, it is also a momentum builder for a program set to be one of the favorites in the ACC's Coastal Division.

Yes, the Tar Heels will lose key contributors on both sides of the ball to the NFL. Guys like leading receiver, tight end Eric Ebron, and left tackle James Hurst leaving will be significant blows to the offense. Defensively, Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson on the defensive line, along with Tre Boston and Jabari Price in the secondary will be noticeable losses.

Ebron, Hurst, Martin and Price helped push the Heels from a 1-5 start, to a 6-1 finish, including the win over the Bearcats in Charlotte. However, it was the infusion of youth that helped make North Carolina one of the ACC's hottest teams to finish the 2013 season.

It started at the quarterback position when Marquise Williams took over for an injured Bryn Renner, showcasing the physical skills that opened up the offense.

True freshman running back TJ Logan got in on the action, transitioning from a kid who did not play in the first four games into a player who became the feature back to end the season. Another freshman, Khris Francis also made himself a factor later in the year.

Although Ebron was the leading receiver, it was sophomore Quinshad Davis who set the pace for the Tar Heels with receiving touchdowns.

As Ebron heads to the NFL, the Heels return five of the other top six pass-catchers on the season. One of those players is Ryan Switzer, a wide receiver who has made his name on special teams, as CBS Sports' Chip Patterson notes, tying an NCAA record for punt-return touchdowns.

Offensively, in 2014, North Carolina will enter the season with plenty of weapons, and, most importantly, a quarterback who got a head start on preparing for the year. Williams going from a change-of-pace player, to full-time starter in 2013, means he's ahead of the curve to enter spring ball. Although there will be an open competition, including currently redshirting freshman Mitch Trubisky. 

On the defensive side, Martin and Jackson will be the bodies UNC is working to replace for a unit that finished much stronger than it started the season. Justin Thomason, the sophomore defensive tackle, saw plenty of work during the season and will be tasked with playing a bigger role.

In the back seven for UNC, Brandon Ellerbe used the bowl game to let folks know he's going to be a player for the Tar Heels going forward. Dominique Green, a safety forced into action to start the season, grew up on the field and is a player whom UNC will be looking to as a leader in the secondary.

There is youth all over the North Carolina roster, and as ESPN points out, reinforcements are coming as the Heels boast a strong recruiting effort. 2014, with the talent returning and the strength at the quarterback spot, is looking to be the year many, including NBC Sports' Kevin McGuire, expected UNC to have in 2013.

The Tar Heels will take the bowl win into the offseason and spring ball. More importantly, they will enter spring with an identity, with players ready to make plays instead of simply learning to play big time football. With the talent returning, and the losses that other Coastal teams have to replace, Larry Fedora should be primed to show folks why the Tar Heels hired him in Chapel Hill.

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ESPN Analyst Jesse Palmer Gave Chris Fowler the Heimlich Maneuver

According to ESPN college football analyst Chris Fowler, fellow analyst and former NFL quarterback Jesse Palmer saved his life by giving him the Heimlich maneuver after he choked on a chicken sandwich at halftime of the Pinstripe Bowl. 

If you're hoping to find a video, Fowler is doubtful one even exists. 

Hat tip to Deadspin for the find. 

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Oregon Ducks' End-Zone Design and Cleats for the Alamo Bowl Are Impressive

The Oregon Ducks are known for their elaborate uniforms, but it looks like their crazy designs will be on the field during the Alamo Bowl against the Texas Longhorns. 

In addition to the end-zone design, Oregon will wear these cleats with a shiny bottom, because everything it does has to be state-of-the-art. 


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Michigan vs. Kansas State: Revealing Keys to Victory in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Two 7-5 teams will look to end their year on a high note as Michigan takes on Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. In order to get that final win, it will take a lot of strategy from each side.

The two squads in this game each took different paths to get here. The Wildcats got off to an awful start to the year and were 2-4 after six games. However, an easier schedule and more confidence led to them winning five of their last six.

Meanwhile, the Wolverines had a much harder time in the Big Ten after starting 5-0. They lost four of their last five games and will have to compete in the bowl game without starting quarterback Devin Gardner, who is out with a broken foot.

Still, either team is capable of coming out with a victory in this competitive game. It all depends on which team does a better job following these keys.



Simplify the Playbook

With Gardner out, freshman quarterback Shane Morris will get his chance to run the offense. When asked whether this will cause changes to the game plan, offensive coordinator Al Borges said, via Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:

Yes. As it becomes more apparent that he could be starting, we have to be very judicious about how we go about repping him in terms of what plays to run, the ones he knows the best and understands the best. So we’re at that point now.

This is a smart move, since it does not make sense to use plays that will not work. Without much game experience, the coaching staff has to figure out what their player does well and then put him in position to succeed. 

Additionally, Morris should see a number of plays where he only has one or two options while the rest of his teammates stay in and block. 

Although this will not create the most dynamic offense, it will limit mistakes while giving Michigan a chance to win. That is about all you can hope for out of the young player in this one.


Cover Tyler Lockett

Although Kansas State has a number of talented players on offense, few of them can hurt you quite like Tyler Lockett. 

The 5'11" receiver has a big-time playmaking ability and the speed to score from almost anywhere on the field. He topped 100 yards six different times this season, including two games of over 200 receiving yards. His 1,146 receiving yards ranks 19th in the country.

However, he also had a few poor showings this year when opposing teams made sure to focus on stopping the junior. When that happens, the Wildcats do not have anyone else to step up in the receiving game.

Lockett has more than twice as many receiving yards as anyone else on the team. 

As a result, Michigan has to double and triple team the player on offense. On special teams, the squad has to make sure it kicks away from him. The Wolverines have to force someone else to beat them in this game.


Kansas State

Put Pressure on the Quarterback

When facing a young quarterback, the last thing you want to do is make him comfortable. This means Kansas State must be aggressive on the defensive side of the ball to put pressure on Morris throughout the game.

Defensive end Ryan Mueller is the team leader in this area, ranking among the best in the country with 11.5 sacks this season. However, he only has one in his last three games and few of his teammates have picked up the slack.

This means the Wildcats have to be creative in this game while finding a way to attack the quarterback, including various blitzes from linebackers and defensive backs.

Even if the players are unable to rack up sacks, simply getting into the backfield could lead Morris to make mistakes and possibly force turnovers. Without much to worry about over the top, an aggressive style is the best option to stop the Wolverines offense. 


Establish the Run

Running back John Hubert has topped 900 rushing yards in three straight seasons and is looking for his first 1,000-yard season in 2013. As D. Scott Fritchen of Rivals.com notes, the senior believes he can do it:

However, this will not be as simple as it sounds, especially considering Kansas State's knack for abandoning the run early in big games.

In fact, Hubert has failed to rush for more than 32 yards in four different games this year. While backup quarterback Daniel Sams has also provided plenty of production on the ground this season, he also has been limited in recent weeks.

Still, each player has proven to be dominant forces when they get a chance to shine. Allowing them to run the ball will not only move the chains, but it will also help the team control the clock and the game.

Even though Michigan has a solid run defense that ranks 28th in yards allowed per game, Kansas State cannot give up on running the football as long as the score remains close.


Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Notre Dame's Performance in 2013 Pinstripe Bowl Is Irish's Season in a Nutshell

In the end, Notre Dame left Yankee Stadium a winner. But how they got there was a frustrating exercise that mirrored the Irish's underwhelming season. 

Notre Dame's 29-16 victory over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl was a final Saturday of heartburn for Irish fans that watched Brian Kelly's squad play up or down to their competition, failing to maximize their abilities as they struggled to do the little things took them to the BCS title game last year.

Even though the Irish gained 496 yards (nearly doubling Rutgers), forced four turnovers and controlled the football for over 38 minutes, Rutgers had the game within reach until the game's final four minutes. All because the bad habits that turned Notre Dame into a four-loss team reared their ugly head early and often on Saturday.  

"A good year that could have been a great year," Kelly said after the game, summarizing the thoughts of thousands of Irish fans, per NFL.com's Mike Huguenin

Notre Dame will walk into the offseason a winner, helping to erase the stink that wafted out of Yankee Stadium. But after slipping and sliding around on the sloppy turf inside the House that Steinbrenner built, the nine months between now and their next football game will hopefully help put to bed some of the deficiencies that plagued the Irish. 

First and foremost were the team's red-zone struggles. Notre Dame scored on all five possessions it had inside Rutgers' 20-yard line but only got touchdowns twice. Too often the Irish moved the ball between the 20s at ease, only to stall out when they had a chance to bury a Rutgers defense that did its best to bend not break.

It started on the opening drive, when freshman Will Fuller couldn't hold on to a deep touchdown pass that would've pushed the Irish out to an early lead. Fuller was hardly the only problem, with touchdown catches dropped by DaVaris Daniels and TJ Jones, the Irish's two best receivers. While Jones battled back from a muffed punt and scored on an eight-yard run, it wasn't until freshman running back Tarean Folston powered into the end zone on a three-yard run with 3:38 remaining that the Irish put the game on ice. 

Kyle Brindza bailed out the Irish by making five of six field goals in a stiff wind, but the inefficiency that's plagued this team continued after a month-long layoff. That's why Tommy Rees' 317 passing yards felt mighty empty, with none of his 47 attempts going for a touchdown, a feat considering the Scarlet Knights allowed 31 touchdown passes this season. 

Just as troubling as the red-zone problems were the special teams mishaps. The fact that the Irish were almost capable of losing this game when their field-goal kicker made five field goals tells you the work this team needs to do in the offseason.

Kelly put an emphasis on improving the personnel on his kick coverage and return units, hoping that would give his special teams a jolt. But with injuries decimating the team's two-deep, the Irish had to turn to younger players and walk-ons to cover kickoffs, and that allowed Rutgers return man Janarion Grant to consistently start Rutgers in good field position. Still, it was almost Jones, the team's MVP and captain, that did the Irish in, gifting Rutgers three early points.  

The win isn't necessarily hollow for Notre Dame. The struggles of this season could pay dividends next fall. During the Irish's 9-4 season, Brian Kelly had 22 players make their first start. Five of those came along the offensive line, while six came in the front seven. 

Guys like Jaylon Smith, Steve Elmer and Tarean Folston will be key pieces to the 2014 Irish. So will safety Max Redfield and the freshman trio of receivers Will Fuller, Corey Robinson and James Onwualu. Per Huguenin, Kelly expects to have an answer from Stephon Tuitt shortly, with the Irish defensive end still deciding whether he wants to play out his eligibility and graduate from Notre Dame or head to the NFL now. He could be a two-win player on the defensive side of the ball. 

The future still looks bright in South Bend, with the pieces potentially in place for a playoff run next season, especially with Everett Golson leading the offense.

The Irish's ugly victory over Rutgers puts an end to a frustrating season, showing the thin line between good and great in college football. 

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Notre Dame Football: 10 Things We Learned in Irish's Win Against Rutgers

The final chapter of Notre Dame's 2013 season concluded with a 29-16 victory against Rutgers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, moving the Irish to a final record of 9-4.

The game itself wasn't the most beautiful piece of work, but in the end, Notre Dame walked away with the win and avoided finishing 8-5 for the third time in four seasons. Not only that, but head coach Brian Kelly and Co. were left with lessons to be learned.

So, what are the takeaways from the Irish's Pinstripe Bowl victory?

Let's have a look.

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Russell Athletic Bowl 2013 Miami vs. Louisville: Live Score and Highlights

Kicking off at 6:45 p.m. ET at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., the Russell Athletic Bowl features a pair of programs on the rise.

The 9-3 Miami Hurricanes return to postseason play for the first time since 2010, but the No. 18 Louisville Cardinals (11-1) are looking to extend the 'Canes bowl winless streak to seven years.

Junior sensation Teddy Bridgewater, who is projected by many to be one of the first selections in the 2014 NFL Draft, leads the Cardinals, looking to match a program record with 12 season wins.

ESPN will carry the game, and Bleacher Report will provide live scoring updates and in-game analysis. As always, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below.

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