Give the Wildcats a solid "B" for Saturday's "L."
For a tick less than 58 minutes, Kansas State looked to be getting an "A" with what looked to be a "W." But then came the final 121 seconds when Auburn scored 14 points, and, a 23-13 victory over Kansas State at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"I'd give us an "A" for effort for the first 58 minutes of the game, and I'd give us a "D" for the last two minutes," junior linebacker Ian Campbell said.
Safety Marcus Watts added, "We just cracked at the worst time."
While Kansas State's new 3-4 defense played winning football, but then the crack. For the game, K-State allowed Auburn an acceptable 291 yards of offense, but 58 of those came on a final game-winning drive that ended with a 3-yard pass from Brandon Cox to Gabe McKenzie with 2:01 left for a 16-13 Tiger lead.
"To be considered as a great defense, you have to make plays at the end," said KSU coach Ron Prince. "We didn't do that."
On offense, like with the defense, K-State was acceptable, until it mattered the most. Yes, K-State totaled 316 yards of offense with Josh Freeman putting up big-game passing numbers of 32-of-57 for 268 yards. The attempts was only four shy of Lynn Dickey's record at Colorado in 1969, and the completions only missed by one what Chad May had against Kansas in 1994.
But the fact is, Freeman also had three more turnovers – one lost fumble and two interceptions – and now has 11 personal give-aways to zero touchdown passes in the last three games. Freeman has now gone 13 straight quarters without a TD toss.
"I thought I played pretty average," Freeman said.
Also plaguing the Wildcats was a mediocre rushing game that netted just 27 yards on 16 carries … yep … 1.7 yards per carry!
When the Wildcats needed to control the ball in the fourth quarter, they had already given up on the notion to run the ball by turf with James Johnson and Leon Patton getting just one carry in the final 15 minutes when minutes needed to be milked off the clock.
Worrisome are these facts:
* K-State gained 61 yards on its first drive of the game, but netted just 30, -3, -5, 9, -3 and 11 on its next six series.
* In the fourth quarter, K-State possessions covered a measly 22, 0, 0, 0 and -7 yards. Only one drive took more than 1:43 off the clock.
Other concerns from the KSU opener had 16 flags thrown at the ‘Cats for 141 yards in penalties, plus a conversion of just 5-of-18 third-down plays.
Alesana Alesana's debut was mistake-filled with four false starts, plus was abused toward the end of the game by Auburn's relentless pass rush. Remember, the Wildcat Samoan has far more rugby experience than football, and that showed Saturday night.
And, characteristic to his play, Justin McKinney continues to be the target of personal foul-type calls as the Wildcat picked up two more at Auburn.
While the K-State stars shined – returnees Jordy Nelson and Marcus Watts, in particular, plus newcomer Deon Murphy – and there's plenty of reason to be optimistic about the 2007 future, on this night in SEC country the job of winning the game was not completed. Prince compared it to a heavyweight fight where K-State failed to score the knockout.
"You can't win games like this by decision," Prince said. "You have to knock the champ out."