Auburn “holds on” in Manhattan
My instincts told me that I should be worried. Primetime game, on the road in unknown territory, against a relatively unknown opponent, along with a key loss in safety Jermaine Whitehead – it was set up for failure from the start. But who knew our troubles wouldn’t come on defense, but instead on the offensive side of the ball?
Let’s start with a positive note, shall we?
Ellis Johnson and the Tigers’ defensive front managed to hold the Wildcats to just 40 yards on 30 carries in last night’s matchup – an impressive feat to say the least. Especially considering the Tigers were forced to contain QB Jake Waters all night, as he posed a serious threat to tuck the ball and run for a quick draw play due to his bulky frame and overall ability to make plays happen with his feet.
Defensive Player of the Game: Trovon Reed
In what was, in my opinion, his best game in an Auburn jersey, Trovon Reed looks as if he’s finally found his role on the team – and I’m thrilled for the kid, I truly am. The senior receiver turned cornerback was assigned to cover one of the top wide-outs in the nation for a good portion of the night in Tyler Lockett, and for the most part, he played lights out, as Lockett only managed to record 45 of the Wildcats’ 245 yards through the air on the night. An interception by Reed in the fourth quarter proved to make the difference for the Tigers’ defense, as the following Auburn drive resulted in a key field goal from Daniel Carlson to give the Tigers a 20-7 lead.
Can we blitz, please?!
I’m not sure that I understand Coach Ellis Johnson’s logic from last night. So you head on the road with a less than stellar pass defense (I think that’s fair to say), along with the fact that you’re now down a key contributor in safety Jermaine Whitehead, who has accounted for three interceptions on the year, and you refuse to send more than four pass rushers on the majority of plays? I don’t understand why our front-four couldn’t manage to apply any sort of pass pressure all night, but that’s on Coach Johnson to adjust his gameplan to throw one or two more blitzers in to rush the quarterback. Waters typically had all day to throw in the pocket, so it’s a bit worrisome that our defensive front wasn’t able to force any sort of penetration to the Wildcat offensive line – a definite warning flag with a brutal conference schedule looming our way.
Big 12 officiating…
I’m not one for placing blame on the referees, because most of the time the crew manages to do a fairly decent job at keeping the game even for both sides. If one team wins a controversial call, the other side will most likely get that make-up call later in the game to balance things out – it’s only natural. Auburn was flagged six times for a total of 46 yards. Kansas State? Aside from the opening kickoff out of bounds, zero penalties. Blatant holds, a block in the back here and there, and some pretty questionable calls thrown Auburn’s way certainly did not give the Big 12 the greatest name in last night’s showing. Have you ever seen a more slanted showing from game officials?
Although it’s not popular opinion, as I saw on Twitter when I put out a tweet regarding the topic, I do not think that Nick Marshall will win the Auburn Tigers any kind of championship this season with the type of performance shown last night. Frankly, I’m shocked that we didn’t see more of Jeremy Johnson in last night’s affair, as Nick struggled through the air once again. In his defense, it certainly doesn’t help when your receivers can’t catch the ball on a consistent basis, however, a plethora of overthrown and batted down balls stalled the offense’s drives, as well as prevented any sort of “big play magic” that Malzahn was gunning for all night. On the ground, Nick looked extremely stiff – we never saw the senior quarterback plant his foot in the dirt and use his blistering speed to obtain gashing gains – it looked as if his go-to move was to hug the sidelines and hope for a block or two to come his direction. That’s just not the Nick Marshall way.
The offensive play-calling
I have a theory that was received fairly well on social media late last night: Is it at all possible that Gus Malzahn was calling the absolute bare-minimum in an attempt to conserve this offense’s capabilities before conference play starts back up in a few weeks? The offensive play-calling, for some reason, just looked extremely limited in Thursday’s endeavors. My theory appears to be the only reasonable explanation to the sudden lack of variety in Auburn’s offense. Why else would Gus run an unnecessary play from the wildcat formation in the red zone on second and short when he has the most mobile quarterback in the SEC within his arsenal? Last night seemed a bit like an experimentation game for the Auburn offense. Now why Gus decided that a road game against a ranked opponent would be the best time to test those waters is a mystery to me.
Kansas State’s offensive blunders
A total of 16 points were taken off of the Wildcats’ score column by the end of the game – a dropped touchdown catch turned interception in the first quarter, as well as three missed field goals throughout the game. Now I hate drawing more attention to the kid, as I’m sure he’s heard quite an earful from his hometown faithful after Thursday night’s performance, but did it not look exactly like Cade Foster 2.0? The tagline for the week in Manhattan was “Roll Snyd”, but I don’t think KSU ever expected that they would instead be kicking like Bama before the week’s end.
Auburn did not look like a championship caliber team – they’d be lucky to even reach ten wins with the product placed on the Kansas turf, Thursday night. It’s time for Malzahn and the Tigers to head back home, regroup, and make the necessary adjustments next week against Louisiana Tech in preparation for October 4th at home against LSU. It’s been done before, folks. In 2010, Auburn had a disappointing road showing against Mississippi State early in the year – on a Thursday night, no less. The obvious loss against LSU sticks out in my mind as the turning point of Auburn’s championship run last season, so it certainly can be done. The Tigers can, and I think will rebound to make this season another one to remember on the Plains. It all comes down to how this team faces adversity. Everyone will be gunning for us, because right now, Auburn is at the top of the food chain. Each and every week, regardless of the opponent, will be an utter grind until the clock strikes zero. Thursday night was a test, because this is still a growing football team. “I’m glad it was tough,” Coach Malzahn told ESPN after the game, “that’ll help us in the long run.”