Kansas State football players rarely, if ever, provide bulletin-board material for opposing teams, but even they sound more respectful than usual when talking about Auburn.
The Wildcats praised the Tigers for their recent run of success, describing them as big, fast, tough and well-coached. Compliments flowed to the point that some players think a key to Thursday’s game at Snyder Family Stadium will be keeping that respect in check.
“They are a great team, but at the same time we are looking at them like any other team,” K-State cornerback Morgan Burns said. “I don’t want to prepare my guys to look at them like, oh man, they are this big, fast, scary team and we are the underdog. We are both football teams, tough football teams. If we view them any differently, that could hinder us.”
K-State isn’t the first team to worry about giving Auburn too much respect. The No. 5 Tigers went undefeated in 2004, won the BCS championship in 2010 and lost to Florida State in last season’s BCS championship game.
They play in the SEC and bring their own unique swagger to the field. And, behind coach Gus Malzahn, they are one of the nation’s top offensive teams.
When asked to describe the biggest challenge Auburn will present to K-State’s defense, coach Bill Snyder covered all his bases.
“Take your pick,” Snyder said. “they are a physical offensive line, they have got speed in the backfield at the running back positions and the quarterback position. They run the ball well and they are deceptive in the way they run the ball. The ball carriers are exceptional, they can make you miss. The wide receivers are big, fast and physical. I don’t think I left out a position, did I? In other words, they are very talented.”
Over the years, K-State has struggled against that type of opponent. The Wildcats haven’t defeated a ranked nonconference team since knocking off No. 11 Southern California in 2002. They have lost six straight.
The biggest culprit in those losses: slow starts.
Oregon scored on the opening kickoff of the 2013 Fiesta Bowl and cruised to a 35-17 victory. Arkansas overpowered K-State in the 2012 Cotton Bowl and won handily 29-16. By the time the Wildcats found their focus, they had no choice but to abandon their usually balanced approach and play catchup.
The Tigers have scored 30 or more points in 12 straight games. For K-State, playing from ahead or even is a must.
“They have some speed, but I feel like we have a quick defense, as well,” Burns said. “If we just play tough and don’t back down, we will be good. It’s about not being scared, because they are from the SEC. We can’t look at them differently than any other football team. They are a great team, don’t get me wrong, but I think just viewing them as another team we need to prepare for is important.”
K-State’s defense seems ready for the challenge.
“You just have got to lift a little extra, eat a little more, work a little harder and do whatever it takes,” defensive tackle Valentino Coleman said. “Because they are going to bring it. We have to bring it, too, and match their intensity.”