Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Keys to Auburn-Kansas State

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall will lead a high-powered Tigers offense against Kansas State tonight at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall will lead a high-powered Tigers offense against Kansas State tonight at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Tonight’s Auburn-Kansas State college football game has my juices flowing. And I’m sorry if that description of my emotions is too graphic for younger readers.

I can’t wait to see how this game goes. Kansas State has an incredible opportunity to knock off a team that played in the national championship game last season, comes from the mighty SEC and is ranked No. 5 in the country. And don’t think for a second that the Wildcats can’t pull off this upset. In fact, would it even be an upset?

Probably so, but this game looks really tight to me.

I did come up with a few keys to what should be a fascinating and exciting game. Enjoy wherever you’re watching from.

Can Auburn pass?

The Tigers devoted much of the offseason to becoming a more well-rounded offense. Quarterback Nick Marshall is a slightly above average passer, at best, but he has some weapons. Sammie Coates is expected to return from a knee injury that sidelined him for the San Jose State game on Sept. 6; he caught 42 passes for 907 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Auburn also has D’naquille Williams, a junior college All-American last season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The Tigers haven’t thrown much in their first two games. They haven’t had to. Makes you wonder what they’ve been saving for Kansas State.

Can Kansas State run?

Outside of its quarterback, Jake Waters, we’re not sure. Neither sophomore Charles Jones nor senior DeMarcus Robinson has been able to establish himself as a go-to tailback. Even so, Waters has been able to run freely, a testament to the design of the Wildcats’ offense and to his enormous individual talent. Waters rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns during a come-from-behind win at Iowa State on Sept. 6. It’s too much to say he won that game by himself, but, um, he kinda did.

Ryan Mueller vs. Auburn’s offensive line

The Tigers have a formidable bunch of guys up front offensively. It’s one of the big reasons the Tigers are such a formidable running team. That hasn’t changed in 2014; Auburn has rushed for 660 yards in its first two games. But Kansas State has a guy on the outside who will give these Auburn monsters some concern. Senior defensive end Ryan Mueller is a huge key in tonight’s game. He’s one of the most active defensive players in the country and he’ll be important not only to put pressure on Auburn’s Marshall but to impede the Tigers from running wild on the outside. You just know how much Mueller is looking forward to this test.

Tyler Lockett’s time?

Lockett caught a 57-yard bomb from Waters early in the Iowa State game. Otherwise, though, he’s gotten off to a bit of a slow start. A minor hamstring injury has no doubt curtailed some of Lockett’s production, but he should be good to go tonight. And we’ve all seen how his ability to make the big play can disrupt a defense. And let’s be real here, Auburn’s defense is susceptible. The Tigers allowed 35 points or more to four SEC foes last season – LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia and Missouri. Lockett loves the bright lights. And folks, they don’t get much brighter than tonight.

Auburn’s running game

Yes, Tigers coach Gus Malzahn has said he wants to expand the team’s passing attack in 2014. But does he really have to? Auburn’s option has all of the key ingredients. But especially speed. Marshall is fast and so are running backs Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, who have combined for 469 yards on the ground in the first two games. If there’s one aspect that could make tonight’s game one-sided, it’s the speed of the Auburn offense. Kansas State will have to play an outstanding defensive game to keep up. The Wildcats should be encouraged by their second-half performance at Iowa State, during which they held the Cyclones scoreless. But any comparison between the offenses at Iowa State and Auburn is misguided, at best.

Prediction

I do think Kansas State can win tonight. But a lot of things will have to go right for the Wildcats, even at home, to make that happen. Waters and Lockett are huge keys offensively. Everybody knows that. Auburn knows that better than anyone. I expect some scoring in this one. Maybe a lot of scoring. Auburn 37, Kansas State 31. But the Cats could get this one. Enjoy.

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