MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) – Since the arrival of Gus Malzahn at Auburn, only two teams have been able to look his high-powered offense in the face and hold it under 200 yards rushing. One of them is LSU, the only team to beat the Tigers in the regular season.
The other is No. 25 Kansas State.
The Wildcats shut down Auburn most of the night in a 20-14 loss last week, allowing just 128 yards rushing — more than 200 yards below the Tigers’ season average. That helped boost Kansas State into the top 25 among Bowl Subdivision schools in terms of rushing defense.
The Wildcats face another test this Saturday when UTEP (2-1) and Aaron Jones, the nation’s fourth-leading rusher at 183 yards per game, visit Manhattan to close out non-conference play.
“I thought it was awfully good,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. “We probably would not have gotten all of that if we did not turn the ball over down there. (But) I thought that all of our youngsters played really well and played within the system.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that the Wildcats handled Auburn’s vaunted ground game: Historically, Snyder’s teams have limited the run quite well.
Only two of his last 14 have finished outside the top 60 in rush defense — roughly speaking, the top half of FBS. Twelve teams were in the top 40, and six inside the top 20.
Snyder said assignment-sound, disciplined football allowed his defense to excel against the No. 5 Tigers, a shared characteristic with his defensive units of the past.
“It takes some patience with some of the young guys that like to fly around and make tackles,” Snyder said. “The added time I think helped. Coach (Blake) Seiler did a really nice job with our defensive ends because there was a lot of pressure on them to play well in that ballgame with so many responsibilities that they had.”
Kansas State made Auburn’s offense punt on nearly half of its drives, and caused all kinds of problems on third down for a team that was converted 60 percent of its chances.
“No defense has really been able to do that,” said Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters, who goes against those guys in most practices. “I’m not sure what they did different, but they played so hard and were flying around and the crowd got them into it, that played a factor. But they went out and did their assignments and that’s what we’ve been seeing in practice all along.”
After sitting for the majority of games against Stephen F. Austin and Iowa State, Dakorey Johnson made his first-career start. The junior college transfer provided a spark for the defense, giving it a more versatile and athletic front seven.
He had six tackles and an interception, and was voted Big 12 defensive player of the week.
“He runs well and that is a benefit,” Snyder said. “It was a matter of him being able to adapt to the system and understand the responsibilities and having the discipline to carry out the responsibilities like we like, and he has gotten better at it and it has paid off for him.”
Now, the task is to carry over that success from Auburn to UTEP — for Johnson and the rest of the guys on the Kansas State defense.
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