Auburn picked up a hard-fought victory on the road Thursday night at Kansas State, defeating the Big 12’s Wildcats by a final score of 20-14 in a game that almost seemed to go against the grain for the SEC’s Auburn Tigers. Auburn was forced to slow things down in order to protect a lead and there were times when Auburn’s running game seemed to be out-worked by a relentless and well-prepared Kansas State defense. Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder thinks Auburn had another advantage to rely on; stealing signs.
As the teams went to halftime Thursday night in Manhattan, Snyder told ESPN sideline reporter Sam Ponder he believed Auburn had picked up on some of Kansas State’s signals. The veteran coach suggested to Ponder his team needed to do a better job of disguising their calls in order to keep Auburn guessing. Following the game, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn disputed having any advantage of that kind, not that there should be any reason to feel bad about it if indeed Auburn did figure something out.
To be fair, Snyder was not accusing Malzahn and Auburn of doing anything wrong. He seemed to be just making an observation to Ponder, as it was reported during the telecast. Kansas State had plenty of opportunities to score the upset, and the possibility of having signals stolen by Auburn is far down on the list behind missed field goals, failed red zone opportunities and turnovers.
There should be a line drawn between the idea of stealing signals and picking up on signals. Stealing implies a team or person did something wrong, perhaps by sending someone undercover to scope out a team’s practice during the week or by getting a hold of an opponent’s playbook or game plan before the kickoff. Picking up on hand signals or vocal calls during the course of a game should be considered nothing more than awareness and showing an ability to adjust. There is nothing wrong with that just as there is nothing wrong with a quarterback calling an audible at the line of scrimmage because he does not like what he sees in the defensive formation.
The coach and team that learns to make adjustments the fastest will have a schematic advantage. Those who fail to make those adjustments are only holding themselves back.