MANHATTAN (AP) — Plugged up through its first two games and stripped of its offensive identity, Kansas State finally found some room to run against Massachusetts on Saturday night.
John Hubert scampered for 118 yards, Kip Daily returned one of his two interceptions for a touchdown and the Wildcats rolled to a 37-7 victory in their final tuneup before Big 12 play.
"We made it our business to be effective in the ground game," said Robert Rose, who added a 26-yard touchdown run during a big second quarter. "This is K-State. We run the ball."
That hadn't been the case in a loss to North Dakota State and a lackluster win over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Wildcats (2-1) struggled to find room against what should have been a pair of over-matched foes, and were instead forced to throw the ball all over the yard.
On Saturday night, they were finally able to use the passing game to offset the run.
Jake Waters threw for 115 yards and two touchdowns, and backup Daniel Sams completed the only two passes he threw. That opened things up for the ground game, which piled up 329 yards.
"You go into the game with the idea that you want some balance with what you do, and defenses dictate which direction you go, and that was true tonight," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said.
"After the first drive, we had some opportunities to have some success running the ball."
A.J. Doyle threw for 186 yards for the Minutemen (0-3), getting the start at quarterback in place of fellow sophomore Mike Wegzyn. Tajae Sharpe caught nine passes for 98 yards, and Stacey Bedell ran for 81 yards and their only touchdown.
"That was definitely a very, very good football team that we played," UMass coach Charley Molnar said. "It's not a juggernaut, but it's really good. We knew we needed to play a perfect game in order to hang with these guys."
In reality, things went askew right from the start.
Daily stepped in front of Doyle's second pass of the game, picked it off and returned it 38 yards for a score. It was the second straight week Kansas State returned an interception for a TD.
UMass settled down and answered with a 16-play, 77-yard drive that chewed up most of the first quarter, but it ended with a blocked field goal — another strike against perfection. Eventually, the Minutemen got the ball back again and Bedell's touchdown run gave them a 7-6 lead, silencing a festive crowd of 52,958 — the sixth biggest in school history.
The Wildcats managed just 33 yards of offense in the first quarter.
They finally got cranking in the 15 minutes before halftime. Sams took over at quarterback for Waters and led them on a bruising 75-yard drive that he capped with his TD run. Waters tagged back into the game and led an 81-yard drive that Rose finished off with his touchdown run.
Both of those drives were spent entirely on the ground.
"We were just doing what we do," Sams said. "We didn't really go into the game thinking we were going to run it more or pass it more. We were just going with what was working."
Kansas State forced UMass to punt with less than 2 minutes left in the half and took advantage of kick catch interference for some good field position. Five plays later, Waters found Hubert all alone in broken coverage for a 43-yard scoring strike and a 27-7 lead at the break.
The Wildcats pushed the game out of reach on their first possession of the second half.
Hubert ran on six of their first seven plays, the 5-foot-7 bowling ball trucking his way forward for first downs. That softened up the Minutemen defense, and fullback Glenn Gronkowski — the brother of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski — got loose over the middle of the field. Waters hit him with a little jump pass that he took 50 yards for his first career score.
The Minutemen never finished off another drive after the first quarter, even though they moved the ball well at times against a porous Kansas State defensive front.
A false start penalty scuttled one drive near midfield, and Daily's second interception of the game ended another in the third quarter. Lorenzo Woodley was stuffed on fourth down deep in Kansas State territory on UMass's final possession of the game.
"We've just got to keep pounding away at the rock," Doyle said. "One of these days the rock is going to explode and we're going to put up 35, 40 or 45 points a game. It's going to be a scary thing to see. We've just got to keep pounding away and pounding away."