By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - To defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, it makes no difference whether Auburn’s opponent is a triple-option Sun Belt team or the defending national champs.
“It’s about us,” said Steele Sunday, tapping the podium five times to emphasize his point. “It has nothing to do with who we play. What time we play. You get into that, you’re going to ride the roller coaster. So we don’t allow it, and we hammer it home.”
That self-focus helped Steele’s unit generate one of Auburn’s most dominant defensive performances in decades, limiting Georgia Southern to 78 yards Saturday in the Tigers’ 41-7 win.
“We challenged them to be relentless in their effort, both physically and mentally tough, and to tackle well,” said Steele, noting that missed tackles were minimal in the season opener. “They really did what we asked them to do. Played very, very hard.”
Auburn was flawless on third down, stopping the Eagles all 15 times.
“It started and ended up front,” Steele said. “Those guys did a really nice job of changing the line of scrimmage and creating negative plays.”
Twelve to be exact, including a half dozen sacks, one more than originally recorded after a video review on Sunday changed a quarterback draw into a sack.
Either way, Auburn’s defense delivered a stellar opening statement.
“It was a good start,” Steele said. “We’ve got a big challenge this week. We’ve got the reigning national champion at their place.”
That would be Clemson, Saturday at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN. For Steele, Clemson’s defensive coordinator from 2009-11, the ACC’s Death Valley is reminiscent of the SEC’s version at LSU.
“A typical SEC environment,” Steele said. “Baton Rouge, Tuscaloosa, Fayetteville. It’s a hard place to play. Very energetic, loud crowd.”
Steele and Auburn’s defensive position coaches - Rodney Garner, Travis Williams and Greg Brown – have reinforced the qualities they most value. Now, Auburn’s defensive leaders are doing some coaching of their own.
“You don’t get tired of doing the right things, the right way. And they’ve bought into that with good leadership,” Steele said.
“We’re not going to tolerate loafs. The leadership has bought into it. Play the next play at a higher level than you played the one before.
“It’s become a habit. It’s become who they are. They expect it from each other. They’re hard on each other about it. They’re pretty demanding of each other out there.”
No matter who, when or where the Tigers are playing.
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer
Ticket InformationA limited number of single-game tickets ($35) and Family Pack Tickets ($25) remain for the ULM game on Nov. 18. To purchase visit AUBTIX.com.