What To Watch: Auburn At Kansas State

Looking at some of the keys for Thursday's Auburn-Kansas State showdown.

Duke Williams (above) is Auburn's leading receiver this season.

Next Man Up

Without senior safety Jermaine Whitehead, who didn't make the trip for the Tigers, Auburn's depth in the secondary will be tested Thursday night against a very capable Kansas State offense.

The good news for the Tigers is that Josh Holsey is available and should be able to pick up the slack at the safety spot for the Tigers. Experienced at the position after starting six games there a season ago, Holsey is an instinctive football player who should help out the younger players at the position.

Josh Holsey could be a busy Tiger on Thursday night.

With Holsey at safety it could also mean more work at cornerback for Trovon Reed, especially when the Tigers use five or six defensive backs in third and long situations. Another guy to watch is T.J. Davis. He has looked good in his limited playing time so far this season, but has the skills to help out at a number of different positions in the secondary.

Getting Off To A Good Start

One of the keys for the Auburn Tigers on the road at Kansas State will be getting off to a good start in front of what is expected to be the largest crowd in school history at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Billed as one of the biggest games ever for the Wildcats, a win over Auburn would immediately put Kansas State into the discussion as one of the teams to watch for the rest of the 2014 season.

If the home team scores first it usually means a long night for the opposition with the Wildcats an impressive 148-27 (.846) when scoring first since 1990. Last season they were 7-0 when scoring first and both wins this season came after getting on the scoreboard first. That has led to a record of 166-5 when leading at the half since 1990 (.971), including 40 consecutive, the third-longest active streak in the country. Auburn’s ability to take the crowd out of the game early and keep the Wildcats from building a lead is something worth remembering Thursday night.

Take It and Make It

Auburn will have some good opportunities to take shots in the passing game against Kansas State because the Wildcats are expected to try to stack the line of scrimmage at times to slow the potent Tigers’ ground attack. Without much size in the front seven, Kansas State’s defense will have to take some chances and that means putting Duke Williams, Sammie Coates and the rest of the Auburn receivers in single coverage. Nick Marshall must take advantage of the big play opportunities when presented with them on Thursday night.

Control The Second Half

That has been a key for the Tigers through the first two games, particularly on the defensive side of the ball under coordinator Ellis Johnson. In the first half Auburn has allowed 31 points, 187 rushing yards and 260 passing yards to Arkansas and San Jose State combined. In the second half those numbers are just three total points, 31 yards rushing, and 169 yards passing.

Offensively, Auburn has also been strong in the second half with 45 points in the first two games. That includes fourth quarters of both games when the Tigers took their foot off the gas and coasted to victory.

The Tigers will need to bring it for the entire game on Thursday night against a Kansas State squad that has done some damage of its own in the second half this season, and in particular the fourth quarter. So far this year the Wildcats have outscored the opposition 25-0 in the final 15 minutes with 227 yards of total offense and allowing just 92 yards. They have also not yet allowed a third down conversion in the fourth quarter this year.

Slow Running Waters

While Tyler Lockett is a talented big-play threat for the Kansas State offense, quarterback Jake Waters is the straw that stirs the drink for the Wildcats. Completing 61.4 percent of his passes for 462 yards with a pair of touchdowns and one interception, Waters is a very capable passer, but it’s his legs that have the Auburn Tigers concerned heading into Thursday’s game. Leading the team in rushing with 193 yards in two games, Waters has 37 attempts and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry with four touchdowns.

Auburn will counter with a defense that has done a much better job of containing the run since the first half of the Arkansas game. The one problem has been the running of the quarterbacks. Against San Jose State the Tigers allowed four quarterback runs for first downs, something that can’t happen against Kansas State. Giving up third down conversions will keep the Wildcats on the field and the Auburn offense on the sidelines, just the thing Auburn can’t afford to happen.

Protect The Football

If there is an area of concern for Auburn heading into the Top 25 showdown it’s the number of fumbles so far in 2014. A point of emphasis for the coaching staff since spring practice, the Tigers have put the ball on the ground four times and have lost three of those. Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne accounted for two lost fumbles, and that’s not supposed to happen with two seniors and key members of the offense.

On the other side Kansas State has just one turnover, an interception, and has yet to put the ball on the ground. If Auburn can come out of Thursday’s game ahead in the turnover department or at least even, the Tigers should have a great chance to get win number three.

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