I have long had a fascination with horror movies. As such, I am inherently terrified of cornfields. As many a horror movie has demonstrated, nothing good can come of wandering into one.
And it makes sense when you think about it. Cornfields are often in isolated locations and function as living mazes. Get stuck in one with a villain familiar with the layout, and it’s your head.
Perhaps I’m letting horror films influence me too much, but I see Kansas State-Auburn tonight a bit like one.
The Tigers come into unfamiliar territory amid the cornfields of Manhattan. Bill Snyder Family Stadium is not easily reached, and once there, it’s inhospitable to visitors.
Auburn is favored by a touchdown in tonight’s contest, which could make its task all the more difficult. It has reason to go into the cornfield confident. As anyone who watches horror movies knows, confidence never ends well.
Which isn’t to say Auburn’s favored status isn’t earned. The reigning SEC champs rolled by more than 60 points combined in their first two games–one of which was a three-touchdown-and-a-field-goal rout of SEC West opponent Arkansas.
Blowing out the Razorbacks was not a noteworthy accomplishment at the time, but Arkansas since went out to go into Big 12 Country–as Auburn does tonight–and proceeded to trample Texas Tech.
But then, Texas Tech was sputtering before Arkansas ran it off the field. The Red Raiders were overvalued coming into the season, a byproduct of exploiting an unmotivated Arizona State team in last December’s Holiday Bowl. Before beating the Sun Devils, Texas Tech beat just one opponent with a .500 record in 2013: 6-6 Texas State.
In other words, the transitive property of Auburn beating a team that beat a Big 12 opponent doesn’t apply.
Likewise, if Texas Tech came into the season overvalued, K-State is undervalued. Every season, college football pundits are the Haddonfield to the Wildcats’ Michael Myers, assuming it’s safe to dismiss their threat.
That’s nothing new. Maybe it’s a reflection of head coach Bill Snyder. College football’s elder statesman adheres to a tried-and-true method that lacks the explosiveness others, like Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, have popularized.
While the speedy Tigers zip all around the field, the Wildcats are methodical. Picture Myers or Jason Voorhees, both of whom always seem to catch up to their victims despite walking everywhere.
That’s what K-State must be. That methodical ground game needs to take the air out of the ball, going on sustained drives with a heavy does of Jake Waters and Charles Jones carrying the ball to set up the occasional big play for Tyler Lockett, one of the most electric wide receivers in the country.
Long drives culminating in points are crucial, as they translates to slowing the quick-strike Auburn offense. If the Tigers’ opportunities are limited, that cranks up the urgency on possessions. And urgency leads to mistakes.
Movie monsters always take advantage of mistakes, and that’s exactly what K-State needs to do through turnovers. The most effective method is to limit Auburn’s multidimensional run game as much as possible; easier said than done, to be sure.
With quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne, the Tigers feature one of the most dangerous one-two combinations on the run in the nation. With Corey Grant bringing a remarkable 8.8 yards per carry, K-State’s defense has its hands full.
But if the Wildcats can slow Auburn on the run and turn Marshall primarily into a passer, K-State can create those oh-so necessary turnovers.
The K-State cornfields can certainly turn into a house of horrors for Auburn. But if the Tigers can impose their style of play on the Wildcats early, then prepare for Gus to take Manhattan.