Auburn, Ala.--Auburn’s coordinators said after Sunday evening’s practice they are curious to see how their players react to their first road game and first test vs. a nationally-ranked opponent.
The football Tigers worked out for approximately two hours on Sunday in full pads rehearsing the game plan for Thursday’s SEC vs. Big 12 matchup at Kansas State. Both Rhett Lashlee, who directs Auburn’s offense, and Ellis Johnson, the defensive coordinator, noted they are still trying to get a feel about how good their units are after playing just two games.
“We cleaned up a lot of things in game,” Lashlee said of Auburn’s 59-13 victory vs. San Jose State. “Game two was not a pretty game. It was not easy. It was a struggle at times, but most of the drives ended with points, but we had to work for them, which I think was good because that is what Kansas State wants you do. That is what we are going to be presented with this week.
“I think we made strides, but at the same time the negative is you have only played two games so it is hard to say at this point,” Lashlee pointed out.
“This will be a great test,” he added. “We played at home twice. There is a lot of comfort in that. Now we are going on the road where we are uncomfortable. It is just about 70 guys and some coaches. We will have some fans there because we travel great, but you are walking into a real tough situation. I think it is a great measuring stick to see where we are at. We are going to learn a lot about our team, this year’s team, on Thursday.”
Asked if he is seeing signs that the Tigers are eager to play Thursday’s game, Lashlee said, “I think our guys are excited. They know we are playing a really good opponent at their place. We have kept telling them it is a great opportunity to know where we are at. We are going to know a whole lot more about our team.
“You look around the country in the first two to three weeks, you have got one week when a team beats somebody and everybody thinks they are on the top of the world,” Lashlee noted. “The next two weeks they don’t play well or vice versa. We are obviously looking for that consistency. This is just the next step in us trying to get better.”
Lashlee and Johnson are on the same page when it comes to talking about their units.
“We’ll see how we play Thursday,” Johnson said on Sunday night. “I thought we played better in some phases against Arkansas than we did against San Jose. I think we improved last week with our open days and got a little bit extra time, but we’ll see.
“I think, to answer that question, I need to see how we play Thursday night,” the coach said. “I think they’re going to be the best football team we have played yet and present some unusual challenges. It is going to be a test for our players. We probably need to find out if we have improved.”
Johnson had praise for Kansas State, which also has a 2-0 record coming into Thursday’s game.
“They just execute extremely well,” the defensive coordinator said. “They have a good system that fits their personnel. Players know how to execute it, and they don’t beat themselves. It’s just a challenge. If you are going to make mistakes or miss assignments, then they are going to take advantage of it.”
Auburn’s linebackers are going to face the challenge of containing a strong runner at quarterback, Jake Waters. Johnson, who coaches the group that features juniors Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost as the starters, said, “They’ve been productive. They’ve made some tackles and made some plays. I’d like for them to be a little more consistent. They seem to be getting that way each week.
Cassanova McKinzy leads the Tigers in tackles with 16 this season.
“Last year it was kind of linebacker by committee,” Johnson pointed out. “This year it’s more two starters with backups coming in. I wanted to play more people last game, but because of some adjustments we had to make, and some other things that were going on, I felt more comfortable leaving the starters in there. I thought they played too many plays and the two-deep guys have to step up and be ready to go, but I’ve been pleased with both Cass and Frost. They have played okay. I think they can play better.”
In other news and notes:
*Kickoff for Thursday’s game is set for 6:30 p.m. CDT and it will be televised on ESPN. Rece Davis will do the play-by-play with Jesse Palmer and David Pollack the analysts.
*This week’s game will be the first time the Tigers have ventured to the homefield of a Top 25 ranked opponent since the 2002 season when the Tigers dropped a 24-17 decision at Southern Cal. Auburn’s last non-conference win on an opponent’s homefield was a 28-17 victory over Virginia in 1997 with Dameyune Craig, Auburn’s current wide receivers coach, playing quarterback for Coach Terry Bowden’s Tigers.
*Gus Malzahn, who has a 23-5 record as a college head coach, has never faced Kansas State. K-State’s head coach, Bill Snyder, has never sent one of his teams into competition vs. the Tigers. His all-time record at Kansas State is 180-90-1.
*Auburn’s all-time record in road openers is 78-37-6.
*In road games vs. ranked opponents, Auburn’s all-time record is 25-60-2.