Why Kayin Lee's Auburn career has gotten off to a truly special start
It's rare for a true freshman to play early at cornerback. The last two who have at Auburn are two of the very best in program history.
CB Kayin Lee (Instagram)
After Payton Thorne fumbled the ball away — a play that originally was ruled a scoop-and-score for Cal — Auburn’s defense had to take the field at its own 35-yard line.
A lot of coaches love to take shots after sudden changes in possession. The defense might not be fully ready, and there’s a sense that you’re playing with house money from the turnover.
Cal head coach Justin Wilcox and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital had that mindset. On Cal’s first offensive play, quarterback Ben Finley motioned a tight end across the formation. That pushed safety Jaylin Simpson closer to the middle of the field, virtually setting up 1-on-1 coverage on Illinois transfer receiver Brian Hightower.
Hightower’s matchup was true freshman Kayin Lee, playing in his first college road game and his first matchup against a power-conference opponent.
The Bears went right after him. Hightower quickly accelerated, trying to beat Lee deep on a straight-line route.
The sixth-year wide receiver and the brand-new freshman both exchanged contact down the sideline as Finley’s pass sailed toward the end zone.
Lee rose up to swat the ball away. The pass was a little too far, but Hightower would have had little chance of catching the ball, anyway. Incomplete.
“I felt like when they tried me off the rip, Coach Crime (Wesley McGriff) was telling me that it was going to happen all game, because I’m a freshman,” Lee said Monday. “That was pretty exciting. I wish I could have made an even better play on the ball.”
Cal’s shot downfield was snap No. 1 for Lee in the Cal game, which Auburn ultimately won by four points — thanks in large part to a stellar defensive performance.
The Bears would run 80 plays in the game, as the Tigers were unable to stay on the field for very long due to their many miscues. Lee was on the field for 70 of those plays, only trailing the veteran defensive back trio of Simpson, Zion Puckett and D.J. James.
On Monday night, McGriff tweeted that Lee and Simpson were the coaching staff’s picks for defensive backs of the week in a game where Cal averaged just 4.2 yards per pass attempt.
“I told you about K-Lee before the season started,” James said Saturday night, minutes after his interception sealed Auburn’s 14-10 win. “He came in ready before the season. He’s just a guy that is naturally made for the corner position. I’m very excited for K-Lee.”
Auburn fans should be very excited about Lee, too.