An extra helping of Auburn-Kansas State meetings and others like it, pitting upper-level opponents from power conferences in campus encounters, in September. Thank you.
A school wouldn’t even have to crank the decibel level by parading 110 motorcycles around the field as K-State did on its annual Harley Day.
The Tigers’ 20-14 victory buzzed with atmosphere, dripped with drama and although game film won’t be shelved for future football clinicians, it provided edge-of-the-seat entertainment until the final minute.
Naturally, most schools look to avoid such encounters.
Maybe the infrequency of nonconference games that match ranked opponents is why the game buzzed and dripped. K-State fans had talked about this game for months. The schools’ and ESPN’s decision to slide it into prime time heightened the anticipation.
SEC coaches cite the ruggedness of their conference, and nobody challenges the gantlet argument. Also, state rivalries involving some schools like South Carolina-Clemson, add an annual showdown.
The scheduling philosophy of K-State’s Bill Snyder hasn’t changed over the years. Asked about mega-nonleague games earlier in the week, he said what he always does.
“My preference would be not to play those games early,” he said, “but my preference would also be not to play the (No. 5) team in the nation that early.”
Afterward, Snyder wanted to watch how his team responded to its next game to pass final judgment on this one but called Thursday’s effort “three steps forward and one step back.”
It also was a rare loss in this spot. Since his return in 2009, the Wildcats swept Miami and split with UCLA. In his first tenure, Kansas State swept a series from Pete Carroll’s early Southern California teams.
The Wildcats’ many mistakes on Thursday no doubt play into Snyder’s concerns about blockbuster games. Two turnovers in the first half, including a killer interception in the end zone on a ball that deflected off Tyler Lockett’s shoulder pads, and three missed field goals by Jack Cantele rightly left Kansas State fans asking, “What if?’
Auburn was powerful enough to take full advantage of its error-prone opponent to close out the Wildcats with a terrific final possession. After K-State had closed to within six, the Tigers took over with 3:49 remaining and never surrendered the ball.
Some might fret about Auburn’s reduced offensive numbers. The Tigers entered the game leading the nation in third-down conversations and missed its first five. They had scored a touchdown in every quarter this season. That didn’t happen in the first and third quarters against K-State.
They had rushed for 200 or more yards in 13 straight games and had a 100-yard rusher in eight straight. Both streaks ended Thursday.
Still, a great decision by Auburn coach Gus Malzahn clinched the game. He dialed up a deep ball for quarterback Nick Marshall on third and 9 with 2 minutes remaining and, after missing nearly all of his other long attempts on the night, Marshall connected with D’haquille Williams for 39 yards to clinch the game.
Without that, Auburn would have punted to Lockett, who averaged 24 yards on three returns. The third-down play won’t stand in Tigers’ hearts with a final-minute tipped pass that led to a long touchdown against Georgia, or the incredible return of a missed field goal that beat Alabama.
But like those moments, Marshall and Williams rose to the occasion and sealed an outcome.
Auburn’s takeaway should be its ability to win a game like this. Kansas State had succeeded in changing the Tigers’ offense approach, slowing their pace in the first half. And Malzahn’s team succeeded in the downshift. Offensive streaks ended, but, as in the case with basketball, winning with different tempos is the mark of a superior squad.
That it happened against a ranked opponent on the road should heighten the satisfaction. Those opportunities should occur more often.