Steele: "Let's Just Get Ready to Play"
A host of Auburn defenders, led by Darrell Williams (49), in Saturday's game against Georgia Southern
(Photo: Auburn Athletics/Wade Rackley)
In the 2017 season opener, the Auburn defense stood out the most in a 41-7 win over Georgia Southern. Georgia Southern, a team known historically as a run-heavy program, was held to just 70 yards on the ground on 47 attempts last Saturday, and zero touchdowns allowed. The performance was satisfying to defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele.
"They really did what we asked them to do," said Steele. "It started and ended up front; those guys did a really nice job of changing the line of scrimmage, and creating negative plays."
Steele applauded the overall effort of his players.
"I think that there were 14 total negative plays created. We put pressure on the quarterback, I think the total count was six sacks. We affected the quarterback in a big way."
However, this week will feature a much tougher opponent, the defending national champion Clemson Tigers. Transitioning from a defensive game plan to tailor a team that primarily runs, to a team that excels in all phases, can be tough. Even more difficult when you have to play in a tough environment that is not your own stadium. The number one rule to his players? Do not let it affect you.
“I don’t make the schedule. I don’t care where we play, who we play, what time we play, let’s just get ready to play," says Steele. "Last year, it was the other way. (in regards to Auburn playing Clemson, then Arkansas State to open 2016) It only has an effect on them, if you let it have an effect on them. I do not let it have an effect on them.”
Where does the mindset come from? Steele says that it all starts with the players, and buying into the system.
"I think the thing that they have bought into, is the process of going to work every day, and you put time, and task on the things that matter. That is great effort, great tackling, understanding the concepts, communication, those kinds of things, the technique things. You do not get tired of doing the right things, the right way. They have bought into that."
More importantly, effort is what makes the defensive unit so strong.
"We are going to play at a high rate with great effort. We are not going to tolerate the lows. The leadership has bought into it. I think that they have really bought into the process of “next play.” At the end of the day, assess it, and be better the next day. Just keep doing things the same way, and keep preaching the same thing.”
On to the next opponent, Clemson. Steele grew up in Dillon, South Carolina, and served as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach with current Clemson coach, Dabo Swinney, from 2009-2011. His last season saw the solid orange Tigers win the Atlantic Coast Conference, and finish the season with a berth in the Orange Bowl.
Clemson is not an SEC school, but Steele tells his players that the atmosphere at Clemson Memorial Stadium is much like the atmospheres that they will play in all season.
"A typical SEC environment," say Steele of the place deemed "Death Valley". It’s a hard place to play. They are a very energetic, loud crowd.”
Clemson lost a handful of talent from last season's National Championship team, including first round pick, Deshaun Watson at quarterback. Steele believes that the next man up, Kelly Bryant, has the ability to become the next great Clemson quarterback of this decade.
"He’s is physically looking, tall, slender, powerful build. He throws a very good ball. He runs really well.”
Steele also discussed the leading receiver from Clemson's week one game against Kent State, Deon Cain. He compared him to a key piece of the 2016 offense.
"He has taken the role of Mike Williams from last year. He is a physical, powerful guy that can run fast. He is a very, very good football player.”
While many players do not return from the championship team, the offensive line serves as one of the most experienced in College Football. The good thing, according to Steele, is that the Tigers will see offensive lines of that caliber every week during SEC play. This weekend will serve as the first test.
"They are very well coached, they are a good group of guys. They have good players across the board. Thing about it is, where we work, we will see that almost every week for the rest of the year. Just the nature of the business and where we play at.”
The 1-0 Auburn Tigers take on Clemson on the road this Saturday, kickoff scheduled for 6:00 P.M. Central at Clemson Memorial Stadium.