The Tigers beat Kansas State on Thursday night, but it didn't look pretty. Could Auburn's luck finally be running out?
Here's the important thing: Auburn went on the road on a Thursday night and beat a Top 20 team. If the Tigers do well in the SEC schedule and are somehow in a battle for a playoff seed or a bowl seeded by the selection committee, the game Thursday night should play in their favor. And, of course, winning is always better than the alternative.
But all of that said, the Tigers sure looked human tonight. Not that last year's MacGyvered perfect regular season didn't have plenty of opposing fans thinking that Auburn could be beaten this year. But the game against Kansas State seemed like the first piece of concrete evidence that the Tigers could be had, particularly if the Wildcats' offense or defense could have played a little better.
What was most troubling was that the vaunted running game, the thing that powered Auburn during last year's run to the national championship game, was perhaps the most mortal part of the Tigers' team. Auburn gained a total of 128 yards on 45 rushing attempts -- an average of 2.8 yards a carry. The big-play ability that the Tigers showed in 2013 was also lacking. According to cfbstats.com, Auburn had a per-game average of 10.5 rushing plays of 10 or more yards last season. According to the play-by-play from the Kansas State game, the Tigers had three Thursday night.
And it wasn't just play selection. In 2013, 20.2 percent of Auburn's runs went for 10 or more yards. Even if you take out the three plays at the end of the game where Auburn was just killing the clock by taking a knee, only 7.1 percent of Auburn's runs against Kansas State gained 10 or more yards. Whether anyone else can replicate Kansas State's effort in the future remains to be seen, but you can bet that Nick Saban and defensive coordinators across the SEC are going to be scouring the film from this game to see if there's something they can replicate.
That doesn't even get into the various ways that Kansas State shot itself in the foot Thursday. The Wildcats missed three field goals. They also threw an interception in the end zone. You can make a case that Kansas State left anywhere between 12 and 16 points on the field -- in a game they lost by six.
Again -- it was a win. Auburn's passing offense was decent, and came up with a huge play in the fourth quarter to essentially seal the victory. Kansas State gained less than 4.1 yards a play, including being limited to 1.3 yards a rush. To say that Auburn will be an easy out because they struggled a bit in this game is a massive overreaction.
It's not too much, though, to say that Auburn looked beatable Thursday night, especially considering that there are six more teams ranked in the Top 15 on the Tigers' schedule. Those teams will likely not be as error-prone as Kansas State was in this game. If Auburn gets in a dog fight like this one against another high-caliber opponent, they might not be able to get out alive. You only get so much good fortune in one lifetime.
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