StatTiger: Auburn vs. K-State Preview

Stuart Carter (StatTiger) previews Auburn's season opening football game against Kansas State.

Kansas State 2006 record: 7-6

Offensive Numbers: 315 yards (115 rushing, 200 passing), 23 points per game
Defensive Numbers: 346 yards (149 rushing, 197 passing), 24 points per game
Returning Starters: 7 Offense, 7 Defense, 1 Special Teams

Against Auburn:

Record: 0-2
Auburn Numbers: 386 yards (255 rushing, 128 passing), 36 points per game Kansas State Numbers: 439 total (122 rushing, 317 passing), 25 points per game

2006 Record: 7-6 Overall, 4-4 Big XII

85th Total Offense, 315.2 ypg
69th Scoring Offense, 22.8 ppg
70th Total Defense, 345.6 ypg
66th Scoring Defense, 23.8 ppg

After losing their first three games against a ranked opponent by an average of 19 points, the 2006 Kansas State Wildcats upset No. 4 Texas, 45-42. The upset victory over the Longhorns failed to carry over the following week when Kansas State lost to its instate rival, Kansas, by a score of 39-20. This was followed by a 37-10 pounding at the hands of No. 16 Rutgers in the Texas Bowl.

Last time out...

The Auburn Tigers are coming off an 11-2 season, which included a Cotton Bowl victory over Nebraska. This was the same Cornhusker squad that defeated Kansas State 21-3. Despite the impressive record in 2006, the 2007 version of the Tigers is hoping to return to Atlanta to compete for a conference championship.

The Wildcats are hoping to build on their 7-6 record and first bowl appearance since 2003. They closed out the 2006 season with an embarrassing 27-point loss to Rutgers. Over the last three seasons, Kansas State has posted a 4-15 record against Division I opponents with a winning record. Their average score in their 15 defeats: 38-20.

About Kansas State...

Last season Kansas State fans witnessed the emergence of a star quarterback in Josh Freeman. The freshman quarterback did not make his first start until the fifth game and averaged 196 yards passing the remainder of the season. This included four games of more than 240 yards passing. Late in the season the Wildcats posted a three-game winning streak where Freeman averaged 227 yards passing while tossing six touchdown passes compared to just two interceptions.

Freeman made critical errors during his freshman year but had the knack for making the big play. Freshman running back Leon Patton provided Kansas State with a spark in the running game, averaging 5.64 yards per carry. Patton gained 94.8 yards per game in the five contests he had at least 12 carries. As a junior, running back James Johnson averaged 101.7 yards per game in the three games he carried the ball at least 20 times.

Senior wideout Jordy Nelson led Kansas State with 39 receptions last season. At 6-3, 217 pounds, Nelson is an imposing target and will challenge the Auburn corners when they drop into single coverage. The Wildcats are expecting a heavy contribution from a group of receivers with JUCO experience.

Nelson is a big-play threat for the 'Cats.

On the defensive side of the ball, Kansas State must replace three of its top four leading tacklers from 2006. The spotlight will fall on their two starting defensive ends, Ian Campbell (6-5, 249) and Rob Jackson (6-4, 259). Campbell registered 11.5 sacks last season and was third on the team in total tackles. Rob Jackson had 8.5 tackles for losses, including 4.5 sacks. Safety Marcus Watts (6-1, 189) is the playmaker in the secondary leading the team with three interceptions. He also forced two fumbles, blocked one kick and recorded two quarterback sacks.

Kansas State must replace place kicker Jeff Snodgrass, but the starting punter, Tim Reyer, returns from last season after averaging 42.1 yards per punt. Last season, the Wildcats had three different players return a kickoff for a touchdown. All three return in 2007, giving the Wildcats a lethal combination in the return game. Yamon Figurs will be missed on punt returns as he took two to the house in 2006.

About Auburn...

All eyes will be on the Auburn offense this season as Al Borges attempts to revive an offense that went from being the best in the conference in 2004 and 2005 to one of the worst in 2006. The focus on offense will be the performance of the offensive line and the consistency of quarterback Brandon Cox. In terms of pass ratings, Auburn's passing game under Borges has finished in the top 10 when compared to the last 50 Auburn offenses.

Even though improvement is needed in the passing game, the lifeline of the Auburn offense remains the running game. Over the last three years Auburn is 18-1 when it rushes for more than 175 yards and 18-2 when averaging more than four yards per carry. The Tigers must replace Kenny Irons, but there is plenty of talent and skill to field a very good running game. Coach Eddie Gran is counting on Auburn's diversity at the running back position to translate into offensive production.

Ben Tate, Mario Fannin and Brad Lester are all candidates to get the bulk of the carries. A healthy Carl Stewart could spark the backfield with the senior back expected to be more involved in the offense in 2007. A step in the right direction to improve the offense would be the multiple use of the running backs. During the 2004 season, backs accounted for 29 percent of the team's receptions. It dropped to 19 percent in 2005 and 22 percent in 2006.

Tate (#44) is hoping for an increased role in 2007.

The offensive line and wide receiver positions are the weakest links on offense coming into the season opener. Auburn replaces four starters on the offensive line and Rod Smith possesses the most experience at wide receiver. Coach Hugh Nall is upbeat about the potential of the new faces on the line but it might take a few games for the players to gel as a unit. The trio of Cole Bennett, Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie gives Auburn one of the best tight end units in the country.

Wesley Byrum won the kicking job and Ryan Shoemaker will make his first start as Auburn's punter. Losing Tristan Davis will probably hurt the kick return average and Gran is still searching for a threat at the punt return position. As good as Auburn's special teams play was in 2006, a drop off could be expected in 2007.

Final Thoughts...

Kansas State will more than likely attempt to make it a perimeter game against Auburn. Their strength on offense will come in the passing game, and on defense it lies in the ends and secondary. The K-State passing game is designed to be vertical rather than a methodical high percentage attack and Josh Freeman has the arm strength and enough mobility to test the Auburn secondary often. Auburn gave up 35 sacks last season and the Wildcats hope to exploit the youth on Auburn's offensive line. If Auburn's running game is taken away, the Wildcats can play to their strength of defense.

The hidden key for success for the Wildcats will be a running game that struggled last season, but has the potential to be much better in 2007. If Kansas State has any chance to pull off an upset, it will have to be balanced on offense. Over the last five years, Auburn has been defeated 14 times. In those 14 losses, Auburn has allowed an average of 169.5 yards rushing while gaining only 112.8 yards rushing on offense. During the 50 victories over the past five years, Auburn has averaged 201.9 yards rushing, while holding opponents to just 100.9 yards on the ground.

Last season Kansas State allowed seven opponents to rush for more than 170 yards. It might be strong on the ends but the heart of their defense is very suspect. Though Borges wants to open up the Auburn offense in 2007, Auburn's success at running through the Wildcat defense will make or break this match up. It will also slow down the Kansas State pass rush, allowing Cox the opportunity to go through his progressions in the passing game.

Last year Auburn was only +3 on offense in terms of scoring margins. This meant that the Auburn offense scored three more points than their opponents normally allowed. The defense was a solid –10 in scoring margins, holding their opponents to 10 points less than what they normally averaged. Kansas State broke even on offense and was +3 on defense. Utilizing the scoring margins and average scores from last season, Auburn should win this game by 14 or by a score of 28-14. It's a whole new season and the scoring margins are certain to change but in what direction? Until next week, I see the numbers falling in Auburn's favor...

Auburn 31, Kansas State 14

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