MANHATTAN — It was the type of game that didn’t reveal much about either team.
Kansas State was a heavy favorite. Massachusetts was coming off two woeful losses. The domination that followed was hardly a surprise. Everyone expected the Wildcats to cruise to victory and that’s exactly what they did, throttling the Minutemen 37-7 in front of 52,958 on Saturday night at Snyder Family Stadium.
Still, the care-free evening was a welcome change for a team that lost its opener and lacked consistency in a bounce-back win last week. K-State will be able to quickly move past this game and turn its focus to the Big 12 season, which begins next week at Texas.
Some of that success had to do with a step down in competition, but not all. Even though Massachusetts was clearly the worst opponent K-State has faced, the Wildcats shined in several key areas.
They were most dominant in the running game, pounding the ball at UMass for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Senior running back John Hubert paced the attack with 118 yards on 18 carries, but backup quarterback Daniel Sams had a nice night with 77 yards and a touchdown on 11 attempts and backup running back Robert Rose had a 26-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Even starting quarterback Jake Waters got in on the fun with 74 yards.
“The biggest thing was just toughness. The first two teams we played kind of questioned our toughness,” junior receiver Tyler Lockett said. “We went out here in practice this last week and really worked on our mentality. We wanted to get the run game established. In the Big 12, that is one of the things we are going to have to depend on. You can’t just throw the ball all the time. You have to learn to run the ball, and today that was a success.”
It was also refreshing performance for an offense that averaged 95 rushing yards in its first two games, especially with Waters throwing for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Coming into the night, the offensive line vowed to improve and coach Bill Snyder challenged Hubert to “get going.”
Everyone responded. The offensive line opened big holes and Hubert looked like his old self, getting upfield and making nice cuts to avoid tacklers. He also caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Waters before the end of the first half.
“We were more poised and comfortable,” Sams said. “We came out hitting on all cylinders in the run game. Our offensive line showed up tonight. They played with a big chip on their shoulder. They were really preaching it all week. We’ve got to prove ourselves no matter who we play. I look forward to that continuing in Big 12 play.”
A shot of confidence should help Hubert when he takes on a Texas defense that has been weak against the run and fired its defensive coordinator after two miserable games.
Of course, Snyder will still preach improvement.
“There were times tonight when he put his head down and ran,” Snyder said of Hubert. “Was it as consistent as I would have liked? No, but I thought he just ran more physical this evening.... There comes a time when you have to do that. You can’t make everybody miss. So sometimes you just have to get the pads down and give it all you can. He did more of that this evening.”
K-State’s defense will need to manufacture similar improvement this week in practice. It remains a work in progress.
The Wildcats struggled early against the Minutemen, allowing them to march into scoring range and score a touchdown in the opening minutes without much trouble. Massachusetts led 7-6 at the end of the first quarter, despite a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown from Kip Daily and a blocked field goal from Travis Britz. Things could have been much worse.
K-State toughened up considerably as the game went on, holding Massachusetts scoreless the rest of the way, but it showed lapses on third down and in the secondary. Missed tackles were common, and the Minutemen amassed a season-best 309 yards.
“I don’t think we played as well as the score shows,” senior linebacker Blake Slaughter said. “Seven points, I don’t think we played that well. They were able to score early on. The rest of the game we were able to get stops. We played better, but we aren’t where we need to be. We still have a long way to go.”
There was good and bad for the Wildcats to take away from this one. For now, it’s difficult to say what that means.
We will learn much more about the Wildcats in their next game, and the eight that follow.