If Kansas State was looking for a confidence boost before opening Big 12 play next week, the Wildcats found it against Massachusetts Saturday night.
The Wildcats survived a sluggish start to the game and then cruised to a blowout 37-7 victory at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
K-State was still far from perfect in its final nonconference tilt of the season, but don’t tell that to running back John Hubert, who waited quite some time for a night like Saturday.
The senior, who struggled to get anything going in each of the first two games this season, finally found his stride against the Minutemen, rushing for a season-best 118 yards on 18 carries and catching two passes for another 50 yards and a touchdown.
“John’s always the same John — but we blocked better, were more physical and gave him better holes to run through,” K-State center B.J. Finney said. “We take pride in that, but that’s only a 100-yard game and we have to keep pushing, be hungry and get John to 1,000 yards.”
Hubert led an overall rushing effort by K-State that was missing against North Dakota State and Louisiana. Averaging 7.2 yards per carry as a team, the Wildcats rushed for 329 yards — finishing with 456 yards of total offense. It was the most ground yards for K-State since hanging 346 on Kansas last season and broke a streak of 10 straight games without reaching at least 200 yards.
Backup quarterback Daniel Sams carried the ball 11 times for 77 yards — including a dazzling 37-yard scamper in the first quarter to set up a score. He was also 2-for-2 passing for 12 yards.
Starter Jake Waters enjoyed his best rushing day of the season, totaling 74 yards on nine carries, while completing 5 of 10 passes for 115 yards with two touchdowns — one to Hubert and then a 50-yarder to fullback Glenn Gronkowski in the third quarter.
Even 5-foot-4 senior Robert Rose got into the action, scoring the first touchdown of his career when he gashed the UMass defense for a 26-yard score in the second quarter.
“I would guess we probably blocked a little bit better,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said about the Wildcats’ running game. “You have to do that to make the run game go. We probably had more balance in it, Jake ran for more yardage than he had. John and Robert both ran the ball reasonably well, so there was more balance in it.
“At the end of the day, if the five guys up front are blocking, then you probably get some yardage in the run game, and if they’re not, it doesn’t matter whose got it.”
K-State rushed for 180 yards in the second quarter alone Saturday, erasing a slow start that had the Wildcats trailing the Minutemen 7-6 after the first quarter. The Wildcats’ lone score came on a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Kip Daily.
The Wildcats (2-1) scored three straight times in the second quarter — four overall going into the third — to take a commanding 27-7 lead at halftime. Sams started the K-State surge when he scored on a 1-yard sneak to cap an 11-play, 75-yard drive that chewed nearly 6 minutes off the clock. The sophomore carried the ball fives times on the drive for 55 yards.
K-State then made it 20-7 when Rose ran past the defense for his 26-yard score with 3:45 to play in the first half. Waters and Hubert did the heavy lifting on the drive, though, as the quarterback rushed three straight times for 31 yards, followed by back-to-back carries for Hubert that went for 10 and 14 yards, respectively.
Hubert’s big night continued on the Wildcats’ next possession, starting with a 7-yard reception and then finishing with a 43-yard touchdown catch from Waters that put K-State ahead 27-7 with 11 seconds left in the second quarter.
UMass, which outgained the Wildcats 138-33 in the first quarter, could never find that same groove the rest of the way, finishing the game with 308 yards of total offense.
Quarterback AJ Doyle was 21-of-31 passing for 186 yards for the Minutemen, while also rushing nine times for 37 yards. Freshman running back Stacey Bedell carried the ball 23 times for 81 yards and scored the first touchdown of this career — a 2-yard rush in the first quarter.
“Obviously, the game didn’t turn out like we wanted it to, like I thought it could,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “We knew we had to play a perfect game in order to hang with these guys. But our team had a sense of confidence tonight that we haven’t had in a while.”
K-State wasn’t great defensively, but came up with the big plays at the right time. Daily provided two of them, as he snagged the first two interceptions of his career — taking the first one back for a first-quarter TD and then picking up another in the third quarter. Defensive tackle Travis Britz also came up big, as he blocked a 23-yard field goal attempt by UMass in the first quarter, providing the one bright spot for the defense on a 16-play drive that pushed the Wildcats to their own 6.
“Any time you can score on defense and score on special teams, it creates the balance you need to have in your program, and it’s a great asset,” Snyder said. “There’s absolutely no doubt about it. We just didn’t do a good enough job to equate to what we did last week in the kicking game. But it’s good to have interception returns for touchdowns, and we’ll take them anytime we can get them.”
The Wildcats will take the show on the road, as they open league play Saturday night at Texas in a nationally-televised game on ABC beginning at 7. The Longhorns lost their second straight game of the season Saturday, falling at home to No. 25 Ole Miss. K-State has won five straight against the Longhorns.
“This is something we can improve on,” K-State senior safety Ty Zimmerman said. “We have to be on our game heading into Texas.”