My gosh, all those mistakes. You hate to go negative but for the life of me I don’t understand how Kansas State could make so many errors in a big-time football game. But the Wildcats did and they suffered in many ways, mainly a loss.
Before a full house of mostly purple Thursday night in Manhattan, the Cats dropped a 20-14 decision to the hyped Auburn Tigers. The nationally televised game offered the nation a look at an SEC-Big 12 matchup and once again the Big 12 team lost on the field and in the war of words. You gotta win to stop the “SEC, SEC” chant.
All that buildup of the Auburn offense. Well, the Cat defense played hard, really hard, yielding just 20 points, but 359 yards running and passing. However, when the offense makes as many mistakes as K-State’s did, the pressure builds for the defense to make stops. And the Cats couldn’t stop the Tigers all the time.
Quarterback Jake Waters needed a big game for the Cats. He didn’t have it — losing two fumbles and throwing two interceptions. Jack Cantele missed three field goals, one a chip shot.
Take a look at the first quarter for the Cats:
- The opening kickoff went out of bounds, giving Auburn field position at its 35.
- Waters lost a fumble at the Cat 21 that set up an Auburn field goal.
- Tyler Lockett, the guy who always makes the plays, didn’t, allowing a pass in the end zone to skip away and Auburn’s Jonathon Jones grabbed the deflection to stop the drive.
- Cantele missed on his first field goal try, this one from 41 yards out.
And yet the Cats trailed just 3-0.
Look, this shouldn’t be a sob sister story. But when you watch the game on TV from the comfort of your home and you keep seeing play after play go up in smoke, it’s a little difficult to hold in your angst.
Bear with me. Check out these items:
- After K-State went up 7-3 in the second quarter, Auburn came right back on a nine-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis 40-yard TD pass play — as the K-State defender fell down.
- Cantele missed a chance for the Cats to tie as the half ended when his 42-yard field goal attempt wasn’t even close.
- After Cantele missed a 22-yarder at 5:54 of the third quarter, Auburn drove 80 yards in 15 plays to take a 17-7 lead.
- Trovon Reed intercepted Waters early in the fourth quarter and that set up another scoring drive. On the first play Louis fumbled and it appeared cornerback Darrell Evans had the ball all wrapped up. He didn’t and the Tigers continued on offense, winding up with a field goal for a 20-7 lead.
You just can’t have those things happen and expect to win a game, especially against the caliber of a team like Auburn.
A flaw, perhaps, in the defense was the soft secondary on third down plays — the Tigers converted 10 of 18.
Waters was trying to do everything — the Cats were having trouble running the ball. They rushed only 30 times for 40 yards, a 1.3 per carry average. Waters wound up with 24 of 40 passes for 245 yards. He was minus-7 rushing. The Tigers scouted his tendencies very well, obviously.
Lockett was okay but the Tigers double-teamed him on almost every offensive play. The defenders went on a search-and-destroy mission — they were all over Lockett, who ended with 45 yards on just 6 catches. Curry Sexton took advantage of all the attention paid Lockett and caught 11 balls for 121 yards.
“Tyler deserves so much attention,” Sexton said in post-game quotes. “Other guys are going to have to step up. They put two guys on him most of the night. Having him out there helps the rest of us, but at the same time you have to make plays. We did not make enough tonight.”
Lockett noted, “It hurts a lot. We left a lot out there on the field. One of the plays that I remember the most is that I dropped a touchdown that turned into an interception. We missed field goals and fumbled the ball. We just made a lot of mistakes.”
Lockett showed his mettle as a special teams performer, returning 3 punts for a 23.7 average and a kickoff for 23 yards.
How was touted Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall? Okay. He had 231 yards passing and 45 yards rushing. But this day belonged to the Auburn defense. Big, strong, fast. They can force mistakes. Yet, if Waters had been just a little more precise, oh well, what if, forget it.
K-State Coach Bill Snyder said the Cats didn’t throw the ball effectively, noting the Tigers put a ton of people up in the box. “It put you in a position where you really had to throw the ball,” he said.
He certainly was fully aware of the mistakes, saying, “We beat ourselves, for sure. They will probably say they did not play their best game, but that is just credit to the way we played defensively. Offensively, we just could not finish in the red zone and that is what we are usually best at. To leave that many points on the field is just frustrating.”
Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn said in the post-game, “They were everything that we thought they would be. I am very proud of our defense. Forcing some turnovers in the red zone I thought that was huge. I told them after the game that this was a game that will help us in the future. We faced some major adversity tonight and our guys responded well.”
The win was the Tigers’ first on the road against a nonconference opponent since Virginia in 1997, and the first over a ranked nonconference foe on the road since Florida State in 1984. Auburn was the highest-ranked team to play in Manhattan since second-ranked Penn State in 1969.Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne said, “A win is a win. You come on the road into hostile territory, and they are a top 20 team, and they have a legendary coach. So we knew what it was going to be. We knew they were going to be prepared. We knew it was going to be a dog fight, and they did not disappoint.”
Auburn has developed a winning program. What happened late makes that point. K-State had cut the lead to 20-14 with 3:49 to go. The Tigers had to hold on to the ball, right? Sure. Hmmm. With third and 9 at their 37, would they run the clock to give K-State little time? Nah. Marshall stepped back, spotted receiver D’haquille Williams behind the secondary and hit him for a 39-yard gain. They then ran out the clock. What would have happened if the pass fell incomplete? The clock would have stopped and the Tigers would have had to punt to Lockett. Maybe it wasn’t such a gamble. Whatever, they made the play and it was a winner.