TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Shane Morris looked at ease in his first career start, calmly leading Michigan on two scoring drives to open the game.
The Wolverines had to settle for field goals, though, and never were able to catch up against Kansas State.
Morris threw for 196 yards, but Michigan’s offense failed to capitalize on its early chances and its defense struggled all night in a 31-14 loss in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Saturday.
“Definitely a disappointing game,” offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said. “But given the situation, I think this team played like they did all season. I know our record didn’t show how hard we worked, how hard we fought.”
Morris was steady in place of injured starter Devin Gardner, completing 24 of 38 passes with a late interception.
Michigan (7-6) didn’t give him much run support, gaining 65 yards on 15 carries, and finished with 261 total yards — 82 on a late scoring drive with the game out of reach.
The Wolverines also had trouble with Kansas State’s offense, particularly early, allowing the Wildcats to score on their first three possessions and roll up 420 total yards.
“We didn’t play well enough in a lot of areas,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.
Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett did most of the damage against Michigan’s defense, connecting for three touchdowns.
Waters threw for 271 yards on 21-of-27 passing and ran for 42 more yards. Lockett set a school record with 10 catches for 116 yards and tied the Kansas State bowl record with his three TDs to help the Wildcats (8-5) end a five-game bowl losing streak that dated to the 2002 Holiday Bowl.
“To win the way we did it put a nice little cap to our season,” Waters said. “The journey we have been through, to end like this is special.”
Kansas State finished the season strong after some early difficulties — starting with a home loss to FCS opponent North Dakota State. The Wildcats won five of their final six games while scoring at least 31 points in each.
Michigan limped to the finish after a 5-0 start, losing five of its final seven games and Gardner along the way. The redshirt junior injured his toe in the regular-season finale against Ohio State and didn’t recover in time for the bowl game, leaving the Wolverines in the hands of Morris.
The freshman hasn’t played much over the past year, limited to four games as a high school senior due to mononucleosis and to nine pass attempts as Gardner’s backup this season.
Morris didn’t seem to mind being thrust into the spotlight as the first Michigan quarterback to make his first career start in a bowl game. He was helped by a conservative game plan filled with short throws early and started unleashing his big left arm by Michigan’s second drive, completing 15 of 19 passes for 121 yards in the first half.
“You would have thought he was doing it five years now,” Lewan said.
The problem for the Wolverines was they couldn’t finish off drives, settling for field goals of 22 and 26 yards by Matt Wile.
That was good for Wile, who made one field goal all season, but not for Michigan because its defense couldn’t stop the Wildcats — particularly the Waters-to-Lockett combination.
Kansas State set the tone on its opening drive, grinding out 75 yards in 15 plays and 7:51 off the clock. Lockett capped it with a 6-yard touchdown catch after the Wildcats’ line gave Waters just enough time to get the throw off against Michigan’s blitz.
Lockett set up the next drive with a 40-yard kickoff return and capped it with a 29-yard touchdown catch, set up by Waters’ pump fake that gave him separation behind Michigan’s defense.
Kansas State raced down the field again on its next drive, setting up Lockett’s third touchdown, an 8-yarder from Waters that put the Wildcats up 21-6 at halftime.
“We wanted to get a fast start and we did,” Lockett said. “We got on top of them early and that helped us out.”
The Wildcats bogged down in the second half, but so did the Wolverines.
Michigan had 23 total yards in the third quarter and failed to capitalize on the game’s first turnover — a fumble by Daniel Sams — by going three-and-out.
Kansas State’s Ian Anderson hit a 22-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, John Hubert scored on a 1-yard run after Morris’ interception and the Wildcats celebrated Bill Snyder’s seventh bowl victory by chasing the 74-year-old coach down the sideline for a water-bucket dump.
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)