SEC and Big 12 contenders clash on Thursday Night!
(Watch out for #16! Tyler Lockett is very dangerous!)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. The Tigers take week 3 off in 2014, then travel to Manhattan, Kansas, to take on the Kansas State Wildcats on Thursday night, September 18th. This one is a prime time ESPN biggie, kicking off at 6:30 PM Central Time. Both teams are considered title contenders in their respective conferences, and the loser will likely drop out of the top ten.
The Wildcats are coached by the legendary Bill Snyder, who’s won 178 games at Kansas State, since he took over in 1989. By comparison, Auburn’s Shug Jordan finished with 176 wins. What Snyder has done with that program has been incredible, considering that Kansas State was known as “Futility U,” prior to his arrival. Auburn last played in Manhattan back in 1978, defeating the Wildcats 45-32 behind a healthy dose of electric running backs Joe Cribbs and William Andrews.
This season, Kansas State opens with Stephen F. Austin, then travels to Ames, to take on Paul Rhodes and the Iowa State Cyclones. Like Auburn, the Wildcats have the week off before the Thursday night headliner. Auburn will have played at home against Arkansas and San Jose State. Last season, the Wildcats were stung in the first game by FCS opponent North Dakota State, losing 24-21. It was a tumultuous first half of the season, before Snyder righted the ship and the Wildcats won 6 of their last 7 games. Lest one think an 8-5 season is poor, consider that none of the Kansas State losses were by more than 10 points. This was a better team than its record indicated, especially down the stretch.
What should be worrisome to the Auburn faithful in this game is that the Tigers have endured five seasons of shaky defenses, all of which have given up 24 or more points per game on the average. Even with green quarterbacks and a bit of a controversy, Kansas State racked up 33.2 points per game last season, and they return a lot of veterans on offense. Junior quarterback Jake Waters is now an experienced quarterback, and he’s one of those Aaron Murray-types that just keeps slinging accurate balls, and he scrambled for 312 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground as well, last season.
Where Kansas State is vulnerable is on defense, where 6 starters depart, including several to the NFL. The Wildcats lost both starting corners, a top safety and an All-Big 12 linebacker to graduation. Last season, when Kansas State could disrupt the opposing offensive line, they created chaos. Against contenders like Baylor and Oklahoma, they did not, and tended to get ripped apart on defense. There are some definite holes to fill on defense, but the good news for Wildcat fans is that the rebuilt squad did a pretty good job in the K-State spring game.
The Wildcats had a pretty solid kicking game last season, and return accurate sophomore place-kicker Jack Cantele. A new punter must be found, and punt coverage must be shored up. The Wildcats had a pretty electric return group on both units, and Tyler Lockett is a guy Auburn must avoid kicking the ball to with any room to run.
Unit matchups, after the jump!