A full day has passed since Auburn defeated Kansas State 20-14.
Here are three lingering thoughts on the game:
1. Jack Cantele had a bad day, but he handled it with class.
Kansas State kicker Jack Cantele missed three field goals on Thursday. It was a rough night for a junior that had only missed three field goals in his college career coming into the game.
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He missed a 41-yarder left, then a 42-yarder right and then a 22-yarder right. Things got so bad that the crowd at Snyder Family Stadium roared with excitement when Matthew McCrane replaced him for an extra point in the fourth quarter. Cantele did not speak with media after the game, but he owned up to the forgettable performance in a classy manner on Twitter.
Cantele’s older brother, Anthony (a former K-State kicker himself), told me Friday morning that he was impressed by the way Cantele kept his head up.
“He’s handling it unbelievably,” Anthony wrote via text message. “Very motivated to get better and move forward.”
That, no doubt, could be difficult in the face of negative fan feedback. Though he also received some fan support.
But Cantele appears to have the support of his teammates and coaches. Bill Snyder blamed two of his masses on poor snaps/holds. After re-watching the game, the snaps were poor on his first two attempts. But the hold appeared solid on his second attempt. Cantele simply flubbed the 22-yarder. It’s possible wind played a factor.
They were all stunning misses for a player that went 11 for 13 last season and kicked a game-winner against TCU. He has proven his skills.
Time will tell if McCrane takes his spot. A kicking competition leading up to the Texas-El Paso game seems likely. One thing’s for sure: teammates mean it when they say they still have confidence in him, especially after his postgame tweet.
“I told him, ‘Keep your head up,’” receiver Curry Sexton said. “Obviously, he could have made those kicks. Jack is a good kicker. We trust Jack, but that is life. That is football. It happens. I’m sure Jack is just getting shredded on social media right now, which doesn’t make any sense. People don’t understand the field goal unit is 11 guys. There were a couple errant snaps. That wasn’t all on Jack. Jack has just got to keep his head up and realize that we as a team left that game on the field.”
2. Some changes on defense were key against Auburn
K-State’s defense did everything it could against Auburn’s offense. The Wildcats held the Tigers to 359 total yards, with only 128 coming on the ground. Auburn entered the game averaging 330 rushing yards. They eventually got beat in the secondary, with Morgan Burns going down with a groin injury and Danzel McDaniel getting beat with a double move on the game-clinching play. But holding Auburn to 20 points and forcing it to score them through the air was exactly what K-State hoped to do.
Two lineup changes appeared to make a huge difference.
The biggest alteration was linebacker Dakorey Johnson taking over for Will Davis at middle linebacker. The former junior-college transfer didn’t do much last year and he hadn’t played much this year. But he will play a whole lot more moving forward. Johnson looked fast and smart, making six tackles (two for loss), breaking up a pass and coming down with an interception. He was a difference-maker.
“My coaches told em I was going to play a lot,” Johnson said. “I guess they saw me and recognized I was having good practice sessions. I got a lot better as the season went on, so I gained confidence in myself.”
The other change was Travis Green playing at safety in place of Dylan Schellenberg. Green had five tackles, including one for loss.
3. Auburn’s front seven overpowered K-State’s rushing attack.
K-State attempted 30 rushes against Auburn and gained 40 yards on them. That’s an average of 1.3 yards.
Much has been made of the 16 points K-State left on the field (a dropped touchdown pass and three missed field goals) but an inability to run the ball removed all margin for error.
Auburn overwhelmed K-State with defensive speed. Every time DeMarcus Robinson (25 yards), Charles Jones (22 yards) and Jake Waters (-7 yards) tried to beat defenders on the perimeter they got shut down. Trying a juke move simply gave the Tigers more time to close. K-State would have been better served running straight ahead. But even then they wouldn’t have approached 100 yards.
Players said they weren’t ready for Auburn’s speed, and Snyder said K-State didn’t throw well enough to force Auburn to back away from the line of scrimmage.
“The biggest challenge would be probably throwing the ball more effectively,” Snyder said, “because they did put a ton of people up in the box. It put you in a position where you really had to throw the ball. We did not throw the ball as efficiently as we should have.”
Auburn has a stout run defense. It held Arkansas to 153 rushing yards in its opener and then limited San Jose State to 65 rushing yards. K-State couldn’t even match those numbers.
Perhaps it can learn from this game the next time it faces a power defense.