K-State, UMass carry QB questions into game
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The problem facing Massachusetts coach Charley Molnar this week just happens to be the same vexing issue that’s been facing Kansas State coach Bill Snyder this season.
How to handle two quarterbacks who can do different things.
In Molnar’s case, he’s trying to come up with a way to stop the passing of Wildcats starter Jake Waters while ensuring his team is prepared for versatile backup Daniel Sams. And in Snyder’s case, he’s trying to figure out how best to juggle a pair of capable options under center.
“Neither one is Collin Klein,” Molnar said of the Wildcats’ Heisman Trophy finalist of a year ago, “but certainly they are both pretty good.”
Waters is averaging nearly 280 yards passing, while Sams is Kansas State’s leading rusher through a loss to North Dakota State and a bounce-back win over Louisiana-Lafayette. But what’s been most impressive in the eyes of Snyder has been the way the two have co-existed.
After a tense battle for the starting job, they’ve each accepted their role.
“I have truly appreciated the fact that they root for each other and help each other out because that’s what teammates are really all about,” Snyder said. “They both treat each other with respect and are good guys and handle the situation as well as you possibly could.”
The Wildcats aren’t the only team with quarterback questions, though. Mike Wegzyn and A.J. Doyle have split time for UMass during season-opening losses to Wisconsin and Maine, and both of them should see the field when they visit Kansas State on Saturday night.
“I have to be ready no matter what, whether I’m starting, I’m going in the first play of the game or the last play,” Doyle said. “You have to be ready.”
As the Wildcats play their final tuneup before Big 12 play, and the Minutemen try to get on track after a 24-14 loss to the Black Bears, here are five things to consider:
1. SPEED TRAP: Kansas State’s speedy corps of wide receivers, led by Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett, will pose a problem for UMass — and not just in the passing game. Thompson was the Big 12 special teams player of the week after a kickoff return for a touchdown last week, while Lockett has returned several kicks for scores. “It’s almost like they are a 4-by-100 meter relay team when they put four wide receivers out there,” Molnar said. “These guys can really fly.”
2. GROUND AND POUND: The Wildcats have struggled to run the ball, particularly when Sams is not in the game. Running back John Hubert had aspirations for a 1,000-yard season, but so far has just 28 carries for 79 yards. “Hubert’s going to get his chances to get free,” Thompson said, “and when he does, he’s a beast when he gets going.”
3. OPEN UP THE OFFENSE: UMass has struggled to score this season, getting shutout by Wisconsin and managing just two touchdowns against Maine. The Wildcats, meanwhile, have struggled to get off the field in both of their games. “Offensively, we are not very far off,” Molnar said. “It’s only a matter of time before we hit on all cylinders.”
4. GETTING NASTY: With all five starters back from last season, Kansas State’s offensive line figured to be one of its strengths. That hasn’t been the case so far. “We’re not that same nasty, physical offensive line that we were at the end of last season,” center B.J. Finney said this week, “and that’s something we are still trying to work to get back to. It is just every day a mentality thing to get nastier and being tougher.”
5. BEWARE THE UPSET: UMass won’t be looking ahead to a game against Vanderbilt, but the Wildcats will be guarding against a letdown before opening Big 12 play at Texas. Kansas State already was surprised by FCS school North Dakota State, and now faces a school just a couple years removed from playing in a lower division. “We still have a long way to go to where we want to be,” Finney said, “so every game is showing us where we’re at and where we need to improve.”