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, but the UMass defense allowed Kansas State to run for 329 yards with five different players in a 37-7 win over the Minutemen at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
UMass gave up an average of 320 rushing yards to its opponents in its first two games, and exceeded that output on Saturday night. Wildcat dual quarterbacks Daniel Sams and Jake Waters ran for a combined 151 yards and a touchdown, while running back John Hubert led the way with 118 yards on 18 attempts.
On top of that, the UMass defense allowed Waters to complete 5-of-10 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
Doyle completed 21-of-31 passes for 186 yards and threw a pair of interceptions in the Minutemen’s best offensive showing of the season, even without tight end Rob Blanchflower, who has yet to play this season due to a pair of undisclosed injuries. The UMass offense amassed a season-high 309 yards with 17 first downs, including seven first down conversions.
Doyle was named the Minutemen’s starter for Saturday’s game on Wednesday after a three-day competition in practice with fellow sophomore Mike Wegzyn, who started UMass’ first two games. But with Doyle’s solid showing and Wegzyn’s struggles in the first two games, the competition may finally be settled.
It was Doyle’s first start since last year’s season finale against Central Michigan, but with three quarters of play in relief under his belt this season, the quarterback didn’t take long to settle into the game.
Doyle hit Tajae Sharpe, who finished with nine catches for 98 yards, six times for 76 yards in the first half, including a 27-yard reception that set up Stacey Bedell for his first-career rushing touchdown at the end of the first quarter.
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.
Doyle did make a costly mistake early, though, when 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 with 11:45 left in the first quarter.
The second offensive possession may have hurt UMass even more. The Minutemen drove the ball 77 yards on 16 plays, but came up empty after Blake Lucas’ 23-yard chip shot was blocked by Kansas State’s 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 and Derek Beck made a pair of catches to extend the drive as well.
Next time around, the Minutemen wouldn’t disappoint.
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 on the extra point. The Minutemen held that lead after one quarter of play.
The Wildcats regained the lead for good on the back of the other half of their two-headed monster at quarterback: Sams. Sams completed runs of 15 yards and 37 yards on consecutive plays to give Kansas State first and goal at the 4-yard line. Sams 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 the a 13-7 advantage midway through the second quarter.
It was all Wildcats from there.
Kansas State took a 20-7 lead by exploiting the Minutemen’s weakness against the run. The Wildcats ran six plays for 81 yards and Robert Rose scored with a 26-yard scamper. Then the next Kansas State possession resulted in a back-breaking, 43-yard touchdown pass from Waters to John Hubert to give the Wildcats the 27-7 halftime advantage.
Kansas State pushed its lead to 34-7 on its first possession on the second half when Waters hit Glenn Gronkowski with a 50-yard touchdown pass.
Doyle put together another solid, 14-play drive in the third quarter that brought the Minutemen into Wildcats territory, but the possession was stalled by another Daily interception.
Jack Cantele hit a 42-yard field goal to extend Kansas State’s lead to 37-7.
Backup tight end Derek Beck filled in nicely for Blanchflower this week, making five catches for 35 yards.
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 next Saturday at noon.
Nick Canelas can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.