Unranked Auburn and Kansas State both beat their ranked rivals, again

College Football Preview: Week 6

> The Red Zone  |  Tape It Up  |  Strike The Pose  |  Breaking The Code
> B.J.: Lessons For Professors  |  Amsinger: Picks  |  Sorenson: 10 Questions  |  Shake-Up Saturday
> Braff: Some Upsets Not So Surprising  |  Hart: Making Sense - And A Ballot - Out Of It All
> Trev: Don't Hate On South Florida  |  LSU The Weekend Pick   |  Blackburn: Rivalry Seeing Red
> Caparell: Polled Over  |  Crystal Ball: Weekend Predictions   |   B.J.: Quit Spinning, Texas
> Sorenson: 10 Most Underrated Things About College Football  |  Caparell: Meyer’s Seen This Before

Oct. 2, 2007

By Carolyn Braff


Carolyn Braff

Carolyn is an assistant editor and writer for
E-mail here!

Of the five top-10 upsets that rocked the nation last week, two were not so crazy. In fact, for those who were paying attention in 2006, they were downright predictable.


On Saturday, Kansas State and Auburn both beat their ranked rivals for the second year running, this time on the road, but Texas and Florida should have been ready - both teams fell victim last year to the same unranked opponent, allowing nearly the same score to most of the same personnel.


The element of surprise should not have been a factor but apparently, the underdogs were the ones taking advantage of familiar territory.




"It was huge in that we understood their defense one year better," Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges said of the game planning advantage last year's win over the Gators gave Auburn. "It made a difference in that we had dealt with their style of defense before. Some of the players that played last year played again this year, and I think that helped us some. We really dissected our game against them from last year."


They nearly duplicated that game this year, winning by a score of 20-17, eerily reminiscent of last year's 27-17 upset victory at Auburn. And if they needed another reason to celebrate, the win in The Swamp ended Florida's 18-game unbeaten streak at home.


Kansas State's was a different chapter in the same story; the Wildcats put up 41 points on Texas in a 41-21 win, pretty close to the 45 they posted last year. But 41 points in Austin is very different from 45 points in Manhattan, as the Longhorns had not allowed such a score at home since taking a 66-3 beating at the hands of UCLA in 1997.


In 2006, Kansas State's then-freshman quarterback, Josh Freeman, lit up a vulnerable Longhorn secondary en route to a 45-42 win, and the Wildcats knew that he could do it again in 2007.


Luckily, he didn't have to.


"We did not have to take a lot of chances with the ball because of some of the things that occurred on defense and in the kicking game," Kansas State head coach Ron Prince said. "I thought winning on the road was going to take the kicking game and defense and that's what occurred."


Heads-up defense and picturesque special teams play took all the pressure off of the K-State offense, which needed just two touchdowns and 272 total yards to rope in the Longhorns.


Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox was reading from the same playbook. He didn't have to win the game for the Tigers; all he had to do was keep the ball and follow the plan.


Just like his Kansas counterpart, Cox finished the game interception-free, leaving the defense and special teams to take care of the rest.


"We came into the game with the idea that we had to be as balanced as we possibly could, knowing that if we just tried to attack their secondary we were going to get our quarterback sacked," Borges said. "We made plays we should have made, we didn't drop passes, we ran the ball with some consistency and that was the difference."


By far the biggest difference for both teams was the defense. The Wildcats hammered Texas with constant blitzes and an unrelenting pass rush designed to disrupt Texas' short pass game. The line was in quarterback Colt McCoy's face all afternoon, breaking up seven pass attempts, sacking him twice (with an accompanying mild concussion thrown in for good measure), hurrying him 13 times and reeling in four interceptions. K-State scored 20 of its 41 points off of turnovers.


"The best thing that we did defensively is that we went in there and did exactly what our game plan was," said defensive end Ian Campbell, who recorded five tackles, a sack and two fumble recoveries against the Longhorns in 2006 before returning one of McCoy's interceptions 41 yards for a touchdown in 2007. "Our game plan was to shut down their running game and get after Colt McCoy, and that is what we did."


Last season, the Wildcats got so far after McCoy that they knocked him out of the game on the opening drive with a neck injury. The sophomore played the entire 2007 contest, but from the four picks to the concussion-induced sideline vomiting, it was not pretty.


Auburn's defense, on the other hand, was a thing of beauty.


The Tigers, who rank a pedestrian 27th in total defense, held the red-hot Florida offense scoreless in the first half and allowed them just 312 total yards, well below the 517 yards per game the Gators were used to.


"There was certainly some carryover from last year to this year," Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said of his game plan for Florida, noting that Tim Tebow's quarterbacking style did significantly change Florida's offense. "The biggest thing was to be patient in the play calling, because they're such a big-strike offense. We played well in critical parts of the game, making plays in space, making stops on critical third downs and playing well in the right areas."


The Auburn defense seemed to play well in most areas, keeping Florida's offense in check for 60 minutes, even after starting defensive end Quentin Groves left the game with a foot injury in the fourth quarter.


"It was somewhat the same as a year ago," said sophomore defensive end Sen'Derrick Marks, who had three tackles against the Gators in 2006 and four, including two for a loss, in 2007. "They still have a lot of the same players on offense and we had a lot of guys back on our defense from last year. Tebow is a great player but we knew we had to make him try to beat us."


If defense separated the underdogs from the favorites, special teams permanently quarantined the two.


Auburn Kicker Wes Byrum made a 43-yard field goal - twice - to win the game for the Tigers and K-State's return unit ran back a pair of Texas kicks for touchdowns, each play more flashbulb-worthy than the next. Special teams allowed interception-prone quarterbacks to hand game-winning responsibilities off to someone else, minimizing mistakes and allowing these Davids to slay their Goliaths for the second-straight season.


So what is the secret to beating a ranked opponent year after year? Do your homework, stick to the plan and let the team win it, not the quarterback.


And until the Big Guns learn their lesson, enjoy the element of surprise.