The college football season is about to shift into full-time conference competition across the country, but on Thursday, Auburn and Kansas State will add one more intersectional encounter to the September slate. This is precisely the kind of clash college football needs to witness on a more regular basis. Two teams are taking a huge risk instead of retreating into the safety of Cupcake Village. The TSS editors give their assessments of Tigers-Wildcats, filtered through the prism of a very specific question:
Question: If Kansas State throws its best punch on Thursday night after seemingly looking past Iowa State on Sept. 6, is Auburn ready to take it?
On Twitter @TheCoachBart
They’d better be. After all, like leaving your high school girlfriend for freshman year of college, they’ve had a week to sit around thinking about one another.
You can’t glean much from what’s gone on to this point statistics-wise, and anyways, as (NFL cornerback) Aqib Talib famously said, “People that dry-hump stats to make a point probably prefer reading sheet music to hearing the song.”
Basically, stats show that Auburn can run the damn ball well and Kansas State can stop such a thing from happening. That probably will be the theme for the game, because normally whoever controls the line of scrimmage is the theme in every game. You just go in thinking both are good at it.
Your deal is this: Jake Waters of Kansas State will need to be special, and if he is, KSU springs the upset in front of the home crowd. It’s pointless to read too much into the first two games as they relate to this one. KSU rallied with fury to knock off mediocre Iowa State at the Cyclones’ place. Auburn scuffled with improved Arkansas for a bit before flexing muscle. The other two games for each are cupcake non factors.
This is an intriguing game which could go either way. Bill Snyder teams, if nothing else, bloody you and make you wake up in the morning feeling like you wrestled a moving dump truck. Auburn’s as talented and well coached as any team in the country. It should be a good tilt. I still predict more people will watch Falcons-Buccaneers, however.
On Twitter @SectionTPJ
Even if Kansas State hits Auburn with one of Mike Tyson’s haymakers, the Tigers will win.
Make no mistake about it: the only way to beat Auburn is to stop the run. That’s not exactly an easy task. Under Gus Malzahn’s watch, the Tigers have run for at least five yards per carry in 13 of 16 contests, failing to reach the four-yard barrier just once. Not surprisingly, Auburn has gone for over 213 yards or more in every game except for one.
In case you’re wondering, the lone game where the Tigers didn’t hit eclipse 200 yards rushing was against Mississippi State. Nick Marshall threw for 339 yards that day, which explains the low rushing total of 120 yards.
Why do I bring up Auburn’s awesome numbers on the ground? Simple: Kansas State doesn’t win when it can’t stop its opponents from running the football. Over the past two seasons, the Wildcats are 0-5 when allowing at least 200 yards. That winless record includes games against Baylor, Oregon, and North Dakota State, whose offenses played with the same type of explosiveness that Malzahn’s attack has.
In other words: an upset seems almost impossible. After all, if defenses like Alabama, Florida State, and LSU gave up over 200 yards against the Auburn, it’s not a stretch to think that K-State will.
However, Bill Snyder is a Hall of Fame coach. If there’s anyone that’s capable of devising a scheme to slow down Malzahn’s high-octane attack, it’s Snyder. The fact that the program is relevant today (program was on a 27-game winless streak when he arrived in 1989) speaks volumes about his abilities to overcome obstacles.
It’ll be interesting to watch it all unfold on Thursday night.
On Twitter @SectionMZ
We see this all the time in college football: A team looks ahead to the big name on its schedule and doesn’t focus on the opponent in front of its nose. Kansas State is so much faster and more skilled than Iowa State, but the Wildcats — being comprised of 19- and 20-year-old male members of the human species — didn’t play faster than the Cyclones on Sept. 6. The Wildcats certainly looked like a team that had a part of its mind already in Manhattan, Kan., on Thursday, Sept. 18… this Thursday. It’s as old as the college football scriptures: kids look ahead.
It’s easy to downgrade KSU after that performance in Ames, Iowa, but if we, as college football fans and chroniclers, have seen a “look-ahead” game a million times, we’ve also seen the “all-in” game, when a team treats a regular-season game like the Rose Bowl and plays several notches above its normal levels of intensity, with a souped-up playbook and uncommon resilience as well. Kansas State could very well deliver that kind of performance on Thursday, and with this being Auburn’s first road game of the year, the situation feels precarious for the Tigers.
Terry has hit on the central key for Auburn: Run to daylight… and victory. If Auburn — or any team in Auburn’s position, coming into America’s Breadbasket for a prime-time night fight on national television — can announce its presence by running the ball at will, it can impose itself on the opposition and watch its fears melt away. A dominant ground game is the perfect way for a road team to quash all doubts against a fired-up adversary. If Auburn can run wild in this game, it will win.
However, we’re dealing with the notion that Kansas State will throw its best punch at Auburn, playing at a high level from beginning to end. If there’s a concern from the Auburn side about withstanding Kansas State’s A-game, it should primarily emerge on the defensive side of the ball.
Think of the matter this way: Auburn’s offense is its foremost strength. The Tigers don’t need to worry about that component of this or any game. Their offense is going to be there on Thursday, much as it will against most — if not all — of the SEC. Auburn’s problem lies on defense. The Tigers were challenged in the first half of their SEC opener against Arkansas, and they needed halftime adjustments to settle down. If Auburn plays as poorly on defense in the first half of this game as it did against the Hogs on Aug. 30, Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett will probably have two touchdowns to his credit by halftime. Auburn’s offense will have to max out to win.
We’re left with a split verdict: Auburn is ready to take Kansas State’s best punch on offense. The Tigers’ defense? It doesn’t seem to be ready, or at the very least, the young season hasn’t allowed Auburn’s defense to announce its presence in a proving-ground situation.
In the end, this game — as Bart said — is probably going to come down to how well Jake Waters can play. I’m not convinced Waters will, in fact, max out. However, if he does, Auburn will need its offense to leave virtually no points on the field in order to escape the Little Apple with a victory.