UMass football remains winless with loss to Kansas State

By Nick Canelas

The Massachusetts football team may have had a new starter at quarterback on Saturday night, but the result was still the same.

Sophomore A.J. Doyle was strong in his first start of the season. Strong enough, in fact, to lead the Minutemen to a 7-6 advantage over Kansas State after the first quarter. But the UMass defense was done in by the running game yet again as it allowed the Wildcats to rush for 329 yards with five different players in a 37-7 win over the Minutemen at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

MCT

UMass (0-3) gave up an average of 320 rushing yards to its opponents in its first two games, and exceeded that output Saturday night. Kansas State (2-1) running back John Hubert led the way with 118 yards on 18 attempts, while dual quarterbacks Jake Waters and Daniel Sams ran for a combined 151 yards and a touchdown.

On top of that, the UMass defense allowed Waters to complete 5-of-10 passes for 115 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

“I think we’re good tackles,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said in his postgame press conference. “Some of it boils down to one-on-ones with a lot of air, and it’s tough to make those plays. Why there’s so much air, that’s something that we’re working on to make sure it’s more compressed when we’re tackling in smaller spaces.
“Our team does wear down on defense,” Molnar continued. “We don’t have a lot of depth at the linebacker spots, we don’t have a lot of depth at the secondary right now and it starts to show in the second half.”

Saturday marked Doyle’s first start since last year’s season finale against Central Michigan, but with three quarters of play in relief of Mike Wegzyn under his belt already, the quarterback made a solid impression.

Doyle completed 21-of-31 passes for 186 yards and threw a pair of interceptions as the lone blemishes in the Minutemen’s best offensive showing of the season, even without the services of tight end Rob Blanchflower, who has yet to play this season with a pair of undisclosed injuries. The UMass offense amassed a season-high 309 yards with 17 first downs, including seven third down conversions.

Doyle was named the Minutemen’s starter for Saturday’s game on Wednesday after a three-day competition in practice with Wegzyn, who started UMass’ first two games. But with Doyle’s efficiency in a full four quarters of play on Saturday and Wegzyn’s struggles in the first two games, the competition may finally be settled for the time being.

“He was on the money [Saturday],” Molnar said of Doyle. “He doesn’t always do that in practice but [Saturday] was sharp. And his decision-making was pretty good – there was one or two [plays] that he definitely missed and we’ll work on those things and make sure we don’t miss them again – but I felt very confident with him out there [Saturday].”

Doyle’s night didn’t get off to the start he probably wanted, however, as his second pass of the game was intercepted by Kip Daily and returned 38 yards for a touchdown to give Kansas State the 6-0 lead early in the first quarter.

But Doyle shook it off and put together a pair of strong drives. The Minutemen drove the ball 77 yards on 16 plays in their second offensive possession, but Blake Lucas’ 23-yard chip shot to cut the deficit in half was blocked the Travis Britz.

It was a promising drive for UMass nonetheless. Doyle went 5-for-5 for 39 yards, while Stacey Bedell ran for 39 yards on eight carries. Both Tajae Sharpe (nine catches, 98 yards) and Derekrick Beck (five catches, 35 yards) made a pair of catches to extend the drive as well.

Next time around, the Minutemen weren’t denied.

An Antoine Tharpe interception of Waters’ pass gave UMass the ball at the Kansas State 46-yard line, and Bedell capped off the five play drive with his first career touchdown from two yards out to give UMass a 7-6 lead after Lucas converted the extra point.

Bedell had a career game of his own. The redshirt freshman ran for 81 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and had his share of long runs, including one for 14 yards in the first quarter and another for 18 yards in the fourth quarter, his longest run of the season.

That was the end of the UMass highlight reel, though. The Wildcats responded with 30 unanswered points thanks to a strong running attack led by Sams to give them the lead for good.

Sams completed runs of 15 yards and 37 yards out of the Wildcat formation on consecutive plays to give Kansas State first and goal at the 4-yard line. The sophomore finished the drive five plays later on fourth and goal at the 1-yard line and Jack Cantele hit the extra point to give the Wildcats a 13-7 advantage midway through the second quarter.

The running game led Kansas State into the end zone once again. The Wildcats ran six plays for 81 yards and Robert Rose scored on a 26-yard scamper to make it 20-7. The next Kansas State possession resulted in a back-breaking, 43-yard touchdown pass from Waters to Hubert in the final minute of the half to give the Wildcats a 27-7 halftime lead.

Despite the glaring deficit at the break, Molnar was happy with his team’s attitude in the locker room.

“It took some air out of us, but even in the locker room the guys were still in a good place,” Molnar said. “Even running out on the field all the coaches on the phone were saying, ‘man, we’ve never had this feeling at halftime when we were behind like we did [Saturday].’”

Kansas State pushed its lead to 34-7 on its first possession of the second half when Waters hit Glenn Gronkowski for a 50-yard touchdown strike.

Doyle put together another solid, 14-play drive in the third quarter that brought the Minutemen back into Wildcats territory, but the possession was stalled by another Daily interception.

Cantele hit a 42-yard field goal to extend the Kansas State lead to 37-7.

Ed Saint-Vil led the UMass defense with 12 tackles. Joe Colton had an active game as well with nine stops.

The Minutemen seek their first win of the season when they host Vanderbilt at Gillette Stadium on Saturday at noon.

Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.