While the Tigers weren’t able to pull away from the scrappy Wildcats, Auburn’s offense did just enough to pull off a 20-14 victory at Bill Snyder Family Stadium to improve to 3-0.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee points out that what Auburn did better in the second half was become more productive on third down plays.
“We came in at halftime and we were 2-7 and it was obvious that we were stinking it up on third downs,” he says. “It was our players some, it was us as coaches some." Coming into the game the Tigers had converted 68 percent of their first downs.
“We made a big emphasis on that at halftime as what we needed to do if we are going to win this game,” Lashlee says. “I think that is why we were able to make some drives when we needed them.”
Perhaps the biggest third down so far this season came in the closing minutes after Kansas State scored with 3:49 to play to cut Auburn’s lead to six points.
After a touchback and two runs by Cameron Artis-Payne, the Tigers faced a third down and nine at their own 37 with 2:06 to play. Instead of going conservative and running the ball and likely punting, Lashlee and Gus Malzahn decided to let Nick Marshall throw a deep pass to Duke Williams. The play produced a 39-yard gain and the Tigers were able to run out the clock after that.
Lashlee is in his second season as Auburn's offensive coordinator.
“There were a little nerves,” Lashlee says about the decision to throw the ball. “We ran it down and called time out because we wanted to make sure we got the right play. There are two schools of thought. You run and you probably won’t get it, but you run 40 more seconds off the clock and give it to them with about 1:15 and maybe get a punt or you try to win the game there.
“We talked about it and Coach and I decided let’s try to win the game,”?Lashlee says. “We felt like the double move with Duke was set up and fortunately our guys executed well.
“Nick made a great throw and Duke made a great play on the ball,” Lashlee says. “With our wideouts we have got to be able to do that when they get one-on-one coverage.”
Marshall says he was excited when he got the play call to throw the ball to Williams, who faked a post route and then cut back towards the sideline. “I knew I could make that throw and I knew he was going to make the catch for me,” the quarterback says.
The Tigers had chances to make big plays in the first half with the passing game, but missed on those opportunities on a windy night in Kansas. However, when the game was on the line neither Marshall’s teammates nor coaches were surprised that the quarterback made a perfect throw to ice the victory.
“I think it is why our guys believe in him, why our guys follow him,” Lashlee says. “He is able to lead in clutch situations and the moments are never too big for him. It doesn’t matter if he has played great all game, struggled or somewhere in between, when the game is on the line he comes through for us.”
For the game the Tigers finished with just 359 total yards, but that was enough with the defense limiting Kansas State to 285.
The Wildcats had good success putting more defenders in the box than the Tigers were able to block, enabling the home team to limit Auburn to 128 rushing yards on 45 carries.
“They were outnumbering us, which has happened to us before, but they did a really job of tackling,” Lashlee says. “We didn’t run through a lot of tackles. When they had an extra guy he made the play.
“A lot of credit goes to them,” the coach adds. “They had a great plan, they play hard and that is a really good defense.”
The Tigers are off on Saturday and will return to practice on Sunday preparing for a home game next Saturday at 3 p.m. CDT vs. Louisiana Tech.