By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - In 30 words, Kevin Steele shared his message to Auburn’s defense before the Iron Bowl.
“We’re going to play with relentless effort, we’re going to be extremely focused in what we do, but the biggest thing guys is get off the field on third down,” said Auburn’s defensive coordinator Sunday, one day after the Tigers’ 26-14 win over No. 1 Alabama.
Message received, loud and clear. Auburn held Alabama without a third-down conversion until early in the fourth quarter. For the game, Alabama was 3 for 11 on third down.
“We affected the quarterback with a four-man rush, pretty much the whole game,” Steele said. “We only called two pressures on passing downs."
Auburn’s defensive line made the difference again, Steele said.
“Everything we do starts and ends with the guys up front, run and pass," he said. "Everything we do. They’re a talented group. They work very hard. They affect the quarterback. They have the ability to command double teams. They have the ability to get off a block and make tackles. They have the ability to affect the run game on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
“They’re a well-coached group with a lot of talent and they play hard. They’ve bought into the relentless pursuit to the football, and being physically and mentally tough. They take pride in that and we lean on it.”
Auburn held Alabama to 112 passing yards and 314 total yards, without altering its core principles.
“We did what we do,” Steele said. “We did it with a four-man rush. The coverages that we played, we play a lot of, so it wasn’t anything magical. Had a lot of time on task and that helps.”
The SEC Western Division champions now head to Atlanta to play Georgia Saturday. The Tigers beat the Bulldogs 40-17 on Nov. 11 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Similar to his Iron Bowl words of wisdom, Steele’s points of emphasis this week will be brief.
“One play at a time,” he said. “Just play one play at a time. Dominate your opponent on your real estate for that one play, and line up and do it again. Don’t let the last play affect you. It’s got a life of its own. It’s gone. Play the next play.
“That’s the only way you can approach it. Otherwise you get all emotional into things and then you ride an emotional roller coaster.”
Steele expects both teams to add wrinkles to the game plans they employed in the first meeting.
“There’s not a lot changed in two weeks,” he said. “Everything’s on the table and it’s an open-book test. You can’t leave your wheelhouse. It’s a little bit of a guessing game and it will go on, quite frankly, probably throughout the game.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer