Auburn-Kansas State: Keys to a Wildcats Upset

Is a trap game still a trap game if everyone recognizes it’s a trap game?

Unfortunately for wily coot Bill Snyder, he has lost the element of surprise. Snyder’s teams have tripped up so many unsuspecting foes in his 58 years as Kansas State’s head coach that Thursday night’s trip to the Little Apple has been circled for months by everyone as a potential landmine for Auburn.

So, if KSU can’t count on catching the Tigers off guard, how can the ragtag Wildcats hang with an outfit that is so supremely talented?

A few keys if K-State hopes to pull off the upset:

Shorten The Game

Back in 2012, the Wildcats faced a slate of explosive Big 12 offenses that thrived on tempo. K-State won the league that season by playing a deliberate style of ball-control offense that left point-per-minute attacks stewing on the sidelines.

In an upset of Oklahoma that year, seven of the Wildcats’ nine possessions lasted longer than three minutes. They even managed to eat up almost two minutes of clock in their only three-and-out in the game. Conversely, when KSU’s undefeated season ended at Baylor, KSU’s offense couldn’t stay on the field.

Auburn has one of the most explosive offenses in the country, predicated in part on overwhelming opponents through tempo. The chances of stopping the Tigers’ attack cold aren’t good. Therefore, limiting their possessions should be paramount in the KSU game plan for Thursday night.

Tackle, Tackle, Tackle

Snyder has made solid fundamentals a hallmark of his program. Not surprisingly, Wildcat defenders generally tackle well, forcing opponents to earn yards and execute on additional snaps. Observe how quickly they stop sneaky-good Iowa State tight end E.J. Bibbs on this play:

Auburn, on the other hand, excels at getting the ball to athletic playmakers in a variety of ways. That puts them in position to punish half-hearted efforts to bring them down. Take a look at the Tigers’ first touchdown of the season:

If the Wildcats aren’t taking down Tigers on first contact, it will be a long night for the home team.

Win The Special Teams Battle

In keeping with Snyder’s Quaker Oats approach to the game, the Wildcats are typically sound on special teams, minimizing cheap yardage and capitalizing on opponents’ miscues. (You should notice that this is a theme.)

Iowa State turned the tables on KSU in its last game. When Cyclone return man Jarvis West took a Wildcat punt to the house in the second quarter, it provided ISU with the kind of opportunistic points it needed to almost pull off the upset.

At the very least, the Wildcats can’t afford a repeat of that against Auburn, which shouldn’t need any help scoring. One special teams screw-up will very likely end KSU’s night.

Counter Auburn’s Aggressiveness

Auburn’s defense wouldn’t qualify as an elite unit. That’s not to say that it’s bad. However, for as much talent as Gus Malzahn’s staff and their predecessors assembled on the Plains, the Tiger defense looks like a whole that is less than the sum of its parts.

So far this year, the Auburn defense has shown a propensity to give up yardage by biting on fakes and getting caught out of position. In this case, Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen’s shoulder fake gets Tigers defensive back Jonathan Jones turned around. A better throw — something that KSU quarterback Jake Waters is certainly capable of — is six points.

The Razorbacks also used draws and halfback delays to use the Tigers’ aggressiveness against them:

Of course, it’s entirely possible that defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has cleaned up the Tigers’ problems — the Auburn defense already started to look a little sharper in the second half versus Arkansas this year.  If so, it will be war eagle all night long.

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