MANHATTAN, Kan. — Nick Marshall threw two touchdown passes, Auburn forced three turnovers and the fifth-ranked Tigers held on to beat mistake-prone No. 20 Kansas State 20-14 on Thursday night.
Marshall finished with 231 passing yards for the Tigers (3-0), who were forced to the air by a Wildcats defense that was bent on stopping the run. The nation’s sixth-ranked rushing attack had only 130 yards on the ground, 200 less than its season average.
Not that it mattered the way Kansas State (2-1) squandered its chances.
Jake Waters threw for 245 yards, but he also tossed two interceptions — one in the Auburn end zone. The Wildcats also fumbled the ball away, and Jack Cantele missed three field-goal attempts.
Kansas State tried to mount a rally in the closing minutes, scoring on a run by Charles Jones out of the Wildcat formation with 3:49 left. After the kickoff, Auburn soon faced third-and-9 at its own 37 with 2:06 left. Marshall dropped back and found D’haquille Williams (East St. John) running wide open downfield, and the 39-yard completion resulted in a first down and effectively ended the game.
The win was the Tigers’ first on the road against a nonconference opponent since Virginia in 1997 and the first over a ranked nonconference foe on the road since Florida State in 1984.
Auburn was the highest-ranked team to play in Manhattan since second-ranked Penn State in 1969, and an overflow crowd started tailgating Tuesday. The festivities continued until shortly after kickoff, when the Wildcats started to throw away opportunities.
The first serious miscue was a fumbled handoff deep in Kansas State territory. Auburn hopped on the loose ball and, four plays later, kicked a 34-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
The second turnover was even more costly. The Wildcats had second-and-goal from the Auburn 2, and Waters zipped a pass that bounced off Tyler Lockett’s shoulder pads in the end zone. Rather than an easy touchdown, the ball was picked off by the Tigers’ Jonathan Jones.
The Wildcats kept buckling down on defense, though, stuffing Auburn’s read-option. The Tigers had just 55 rushing yards in the first half, the fewest in the Gus Malzahn era. The nation’s best team in converting third downs also failed on its first five attempts.
Kansas State finally scored with 4:56 left in the first half when DeMarcus Robinson scampered in from 3 yards for his first career touchdown. But the Tigers hurried the other way, capping a 75-yard drive with Marshall’s 40-yard strike to Ricardo Louis for a 10-7 lead.
Cantele pushed a potential tying field-goal attempt wide on the final play of the half, his second miss of the night. He hooked one wide left late in the first quarter. He made it a frustrating hat trick midway through the third.
The Wildcats once again marched downfield and pushed the ball inside the Auburn 5. But after the Tigers stiffened, Cantele was summoned to try a 22-yarder. He missed wide right.
Auburn then marched 80 yards, and Marshall capped it with a nifty fade pass to Williams in the corner of the end zone for a 17-7 lead.