By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Presiding over a defense that ranks No. 11 nationally in scoring, allowing only 15.6 points per game, Auburn coordinator Kevin Steele offered respect, and a reminder, for the Tigers.
“They’ve tasted some success and they kind of like it,” Steele said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s contagious in terms of the expectation, the standard, and those guys holding each other accountable and responsible to meet that standard.
“We’ve got good players. They’re very coachable. They work extremely hard. The nucleus of the guys have been together for, this is the second year in it.
“You’re only as good as your next play and we hammer that home all the time. You’ve got to keep improving. You’re not going to stay the same. You either get better or you get worse. These guys have bought into that in a major way.”
In assessing Auburn’s defensive success, Steele began with the front four.
“It starts up front,” he ssaid. “Those guys up front set the tone in the run game, in the pass game.”
No one has wreaked more havoc than Jeff Holland, the SEC’s sack leader with eight.
“We saw that coming,” Steele said. “Jeff had a knack for rushing the passer. He’s got a gift of doing it. The biggest thing about Jeff Holland is his heart. His fighting spirt. It’s real. He has a passion for the game. He works extremely hard, and he enjoys going out there and giving it everything he’s got. Sometimes in pass rush, it just comes down to relentless effort, and he’s got that.”
Holland earned SEC co-defensive Player of the Week honors against Arkansas, part of a performance Steele had not previously witnessed in nearly four decades of coaching.
“Play 53 was a third down. It was a sack, forced fumble, Deshaun [Davis] recovered it,” Steele said. “Play 54, it was a sack, forced fumble, and Jeffery recovered it. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that.”
On the opposite end of the D-line, sophomore Marlon Davidson has battled through injuries to record three sacks.
“He affects others,” Steele said. “He affects those guys he lines up across and he affects the guys he lines up with. And that’s all you can ask.”
With an extra week to get ready for Texas A&M, the Tigers are hoping to heal before traveling to College Station for an 11 a.m. kick against the Aggies on Nov. 4 on ESPN.
“The guys that are playing a significant amount of snaps are playing with relentless effort,” Steele said. “We have tackled well for the most part. They’ve shown a resiliency to play the next play and really have produced very well.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer