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September 13, 2013

Game Up Close: Time to run

It might not be the most glaring issue for Kansas State's football team leading up its final non-conference game Saturday night, but don't ignore the elephant in the room that's as big as the new West Stadium Center at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Senior running back John Hubert is struggling and it's a cause for concern.

After racking up 900-plus yards each of the last two seasons, the Waco, Texas native and preseason All-Big 12 selection craved eclipsing the millennium mark for the Wildcats in 2013. And with a veteran offensive line returning and no Collin Klein to play second fiddle to, it seemed like a shoe-in to happen. But for whatever reason, Hubert's start to his 1,000-yard campaign has been a nightmare as the 5-foot-7, 191-pound wrecking ball has amassed just 79 yards on 28 carries this season, including 18 carries for 56 yards and two touchdowns in last week's lopsided victory over Louisiana.

After showing balanced play-calling in the season opener at Wisconsin, running the football wasn't a top priority for UMASS against Maine. Freshman Stacey Bedell, the Minutemen's primary ball carrier, finished the game with 58 yards on 16 carries. The 5-foot-10 Bedell is really the only threat in the ground game and he's yet to have a single run over 11 yards. On the other side, K-State gave up 177 yards to Louisiana last week, which still isn't great, but they are showing signs of improvement. The Wildcats should be able to bottle up this rushing attack much better.
Slight Advantage: K-State
Things are slowly starting to come around for K-State's run offense. Against Louisiana, the Wildcats' offensive line looked much more alive and John Hubert got into a better flow and scored two touchdowns. It was far from dominant, though, and the Wildcats are still lacking the same luster they had a year ago. Incorporating quarterback Daniel Sams into the game more will definitely help pick up the slack. It will be crucial for this entire unit to have a breakout performance against one of the worst rushing defenses in all of college football. This could be a long night for the Minutemen.
Big Advantage: K-State
It's not a very good sign when a quarterback competition brews after the second week of the season, but low and behold, that's exactly what UMASS is has right now between sophomores Mike Wegzyn and A.J. Doyle. Wegzyn, last week's starter, is completing just 45.8 percent of his attempts this season and threw an interception last week against Maine. And although Doyle didn't make a mistake in relief, he was far from stellar. Regardless of who is under center, the Minutemen's passing attack is fairly underwhelming and should allow K-State's secondary to have a good game.
Advantage: K-State
Once again, Jake Waters proved he is very, very good at throwing the football by connecting on 22 of 31 passes for 278 yards, including 250 yards in the first half against Louisiana. However, Waters threw two interceptions once again with only one really being his fault. As K-State continues to implement a two-quarterback system, Waters will need to limit his mistakes. Maine was able to spread the ball all over the field against UMASS and if the Wildcats can get the ground game going, Waters could have an absolute field day.
Big Advantage: K-State
Perhaps the only good things about UMASS allowing so many points this season is that they've had plenty of opportunities to see the return game flourish. Trey Dudley-Giles is a good returner and K-State needs to stop allowing so many good returns. The same could be said for the Minutemen kicking to either Tyler Lockett or Tramaine Thompson. Louisiana found out the hard way last week when Thompson returned a kickoff for a touchdown and nearly went the distance on a punt return minutes later to secure Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Advantage: K-State
Following the season opening loss, K-State bounced back nicely to defeat Louisiana last week. The Wildcats are still a work in progress on both sides of the ball, but improvement was made and that will most certainly need to continue this week against a struggling UMASS program. The Wildcats might have a lot more room for error in this game, but that should only mean a better result. It's time for this K-State team to take the next step and keep the foot on the gas heading into conference play.
Big Advantage: K-State
K-State BY 28.5

"He's in a different set of circumstances right now and he has to rise to the occasion," K-State coach Bill Snyder said following the contest. "John's got to step up and make some positive things happen."

With what appears to be a two-quarterback system for K-State until further notice, the Wildcats need John Hubert to get going to help balance the offense and keep defenses honest when either Jake Waters or Daniel Sams is in the ballgame. Basically, K-State needs the toughness and dependability that Hubert's displayed throughout his career.

"Just get back to the rhythm he was in a year ago," Snyder said of his three-year starting tailback. "There are a lot of things that enter that. It's not all John, but I think we got to get John to run hard. You saw a couple snaps (against Louisiana) that were the old John Hubert. He turned it loose, stayed on his feet and broke some tackles. He needs to do that on a consistent basis."

So far in K-State's 1-1 start, consistency hasn't been Hubert's strong suit. Sure, the flashes of old where he bursts through holes and barrels over defenders for extra yards are still there, but they've been overshadowed by his dancing in the backfield and being tackled for loss. The struggles are apparent in the numbers.

Since becoming the Wildcats' primary running back, Hubert has been known for his fast starts to seasons. As a sophomore in 2011, he averaged 60 yards for the first two games against Eastern Kentucky (91 yards) and Kent State (29) and followed that up with a dominating 129-yard average in 2012 against Missouri State (152) and Miami (106). That means Hubert's 39.5 average in 2013 is the worst start to his career.

So what seems to be the problem getting Hubert going?

"I'm not really sure," Waters said. "They are putting a lot of guys in the box and maybe that's why we've been having to throw a little bit more, but it's going to even out."

"(Hubert) said when I'm in the game, they expect me to keep the ball," Sams added. "He says it's kind of easier for him."

Asked if having Sams in the game made a bigger difference for Hubert, Snyder was quick to debunk the theory.

"I don't think that's the case," he said. "There's a lot of possibilities regardless of what quarterback is in the ballgame. All the possibilities exist. I don't see that." "We need John to get going," Snyder said. "Everybody has to be as good as they can be. Nobody is able to elude that for us to have any kind of a decent football team."

As Snyder noted, Hubert, who hasn't been available to the media since early August, isn't the only one to point a finger at. Part of the problem has been K-State's offensive line. What was supposed to be the dominating force for the Wildcats has failed to register such a performance and has often left Hubert swarmed by defenders; something the unit vows to change.

"We got to provide him those holes to get going," junior center B.J. Finney said. "We can't have people running through holes. We got to get on our blocks and give him that opportunity to get going."

The good news for Hubert and the offensive line is the opportunity is there to turn this disappointment around during Saturday's 6 p.m. contest at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Massachusetts (0-2) currently ranks 120 of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in run defense, allowing 320 yards per game. The Minutemen gave up 247 yards on 45 carries in a 24-14 loss to Maine last weekend. Yes, Maine.

The chance for Hubert to get out of his funk and avoid another sub-par three-game split, something he's done in the latter stages of each of the past two seasons, is there and it's imperative for it happen for K-State heading into Big 12 Conference play next week. If not, perhaps the Wildcats may need to seek additional options.

"From an offensive standpoint, we have to get back to being able to create balance," Snyder said. "We're leaning in that direction, but he's got to help us with that."

Hubert might have quietly reached 2,000 yards rushing at K-State, but in 2013 he's just been quiet. It's time for that to change.

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