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I know the game isn't this week, but I just COULD NOT WAIT to preview this terrific out of conference game, which many pundits have circled as a trap game for the Auburn Tigers. So, even though the game is 10 something days away, I wanted to get a leg up on all the other writers....which would be a first, considering how official they all are....and I am SOOOOO not. We can all dream, right? But I digress.
So, unless you have been living under a rock, this is a PRIME TIME Thursday night game on ESPN. Expect it to get shoved down your throat just a little less than the whole "This year is the first year of the 4 team playoff" blah blah.
Both teams enter the contest 2-0 and coming off a bye week. That should make this game very interesting, because, other than bowl games, that NEVER happens. So, who will benefit from the extra scheming time?
First, let's review the season so far. I admit that I didn't cover the San Jose State game. Why? Because I had better things to do. Like getting my tail waxed at the Spro Frog tournament this past weekend. Nah, truthfully it's because trying to predict such a cupcake game is an exercise in futility, other than saying "Auburn....BIG." But, you can go read my Arkansas Review, if you like. Or, you can read the following bullet points:
- CAP is every bit as good as I said he would be
- Auburn's defense doesn't show up until halftime
- We still have no secondary. Still.
- Pass rush hasn't been very good. We are having to walk the Star, specifically Therezie, into the box.
- Special Teams has been outstanding, which is why I drafted them for my Fantasy College Football Team.
That's the long and short of it, really.
So, what about them Wildcats? It's hard to believe that this is the conclusion of a Home and Home series dating back to 2007. We actually went to that game and had these awesome seats on the 50 on row 1. Turns out, short peeps can't see from Row 1. After all, when you are on the same level as all the football players, none under 6 foot...well....5'3" won't cut it.
Well, let's look at their stats. They are 2-0, coming off a scary finish at Iowa State. They were losing 20-28 at halftime to the Cyclones, who put up 21 second quarter points. Both were scoreless in the 3rd and the Cats put up 12 points in the 4th to win.
Truth be told, there were two plays that really kept Iowa State in this game. One was a punt return for a TD and the other was a receiver pass. Though the later was a bit of trickeration, it still counts just as much.Other than that, the Cats didn't give up a ton of yards. They allowed only 319 total yards and came away with a turnover. I think we know what Auburn is capable of, though it must be reiterated that the Arkansas and San Jose State defenses are not the type competition that Kansas State is, so comparing them is a moot point. Auburn can run the ball, and Kansas State has been able to stuff the run in the past few years. If Coates comes back, the receiving core from AU will be tough to match up against, considering the pure talent. Coaching can only get you so far when you look at receivers vs defensive backs. The biggest question mark will be the accuracy of Marshall, whose last outing was perhaps the worst since the 1st game last year. Though the Cats have statistically been amazing on defense in the past few years, this crew isn't up to snuff, being middle of the road in pretty much every category against bottom of the barrel teams. On the other hand, Auburn is 8th in the nation in points scored and Top 10 in rushing, also against inferior teams.
On the offensive side of the ball, they rolled up 471 yards and no turnovers behind a very balanced attack. Waters, the KSU QB, rolled up a career best 138 yards and 2 TDs on the ground, accounting for the majority of the rushing yards while Jones added another 75 yards and 2 TDs on 13 carries. Both averaged very respectable yards per carry (6.9 and 5.8, respectively). As expected, Lockett led the Cats in receiving with 136 yards on 6 catches including a 57 yarder, but no TDs. He continues to be one of the better performing receivers in the country, and far and away the leader on the team as the only legitimate target. Yet, Auburn has struggled mightily against single threat receiver teams in the last few years, specifically FSU's Benjamin, TAMU's Mike Evans, and Alabama's Amari Cooper. It seems they are incapable of matching up in man coverage against premier pass catchers. Additionally, Auburn has struggled with mobile QBs, though they have been able to stop them when it matters, a la Prescott at MSU and Manziel at TAMU. But, that has been the Tiger's MO in the past few years. They are porous between the 20s, but stand tall in the red zone. KSU's waters leads the team in rushing as well, tallying 37 carries..one and a half times the leading back...for 200 yards. He's going to run, and it's going to be up to the Auburn front 7 to stop it. And, that is something that has been a problem. As we stated earlier, the front four pass rush has not been consistent. Much of that has to do with the departure of Ford and the injury to Lawson, but that doesn't offer legitimate excuses when the job has to get done. We all expect big things from Gabe Wright, as we wrote about in "The Wright Time." Now, it's true that much of the opposing offensive lines strategy has been to limit his production. But, it's time for the rest of the front 4 to take up the slack, as we saw Adams start to do this past Saturday in the 2nd half. When you have to play the star in the box, you put a lot of pressure on the back end of the defense, which hasn't been very good. Nearly ever single CB and Safety have given up a major play...some more than 1. With Waters ability to run and Lockett being a home run threat on the outside, Auburn faces a double edged sword.
As far as special teams go, it's obvious that KSU is capable of giving up special teams points, as it showed in Ames this past weekend. Auburn has one of the best all around special teams units.
Big time advantage to Auburn
Let's break it down.
In 2013, Prescott ran amuck through the Auburn defense in the 1st quarter. Both Bo Wallace and Manziel moved the ball at will before tossing up 3 combined INTs. These QBs are all similar to what Waters will offer, specifically Prescott and Wallace. In all 3 of these games, they gave up points in the 1st Quarter. In 2 of the 3, they gave up TDs, though the did record a pick-6 in the 3rd game against Ole Miss. In 2014, they have given up a TD in both games in the 1st Quarter. Kansas State squeezes the line of scrimmage, forcing Marshall to keep the ball or throw it. The trends continue as a scripted first few series for KSU find success in the mixed QB run-pass game. Auburn is able to answer with a heavy dose of the run game. But, Marshall's streak of missing the early big play continues. Instead of a 14-10 lead, they have to punt from midfield during an offensive stall.
Kansas leads 10-3
Kansas finds mixed success in the 2nd after a very good first quarter. Waters finds Lockett and moves the chains deep down the sidelines before stalling and forcing a field goal. Marshall finds a rhythm doing what he does best. He starts keeping the zone reads and picking up yards with his legs or finding Duke on crossing patterns. An impressive drive ensues and one of the Auburn backs takes it in. I expect that slant and slant and go to Duke to be cleaned up from last week. Marshall hits Duke on one and he takes it to the house. Kansas State puts together a late second quarter drive and hit another field goal.
Auburn leads 17-16
It's about time for a kick-off return for a TD. If Auburn takes the opening kickoff of the 2nd half, it goes all the way. Grant or Louis shows off the jets and cashes in. If Kansas State gets the ball, they take advantage of busted coverage and keep a deep ball to connect. THEN Auburn returns the kickoff. The quarter ends with that.
Auburn leads 24-23
Auburn's depth on the D-line takes over. Kansas State is stonewalled. Auburn adds two lengthy drives while running the ball, which add 14 points. I expect Marshall cashes in on a keeper and a tired KSU defense gets outrun to the corner by Grant on a buck sweep. Don't be surprised if Uzomah doesn't catch one instead of a running play. I can see Marshall hitting the edge and finding a wide open Uzomah. Additionally, the LBs from Kansas aren't versatile enough to stuff the inside zone runs and cover a sneaking Uzomah. Though he may not get a TD, expect him to get some catches at the very least.
Auburn wins 38-23