As Auburn prepared for the Birmingham Bowl I thought Coach Gus Malzahn’s football team would probably win the game, but I wasn’t expecting to see such an impressive performance from the Tigers. Without a doubt Auburn fans had plenty to like about their team’s play to close the 2015 season.
It was just a breath of fresh air to watch that type of defensive performance. The players were having fun and were fun to watch.
Auburn’s defense, which has been getting better throughout the season, made a big jump in performance level in the bowl against a good offensive opponent. My hat’s off to the job the coaching staff did getting ready for that game without its defensive coordinator and secondary coach from the regular season. Their guys played the way a good defensive team is supposed to play with an aggressive and confident style.
The way Auburn performed against Memphis reminded of the Tigers’ unbeaten 2004 defensive team or some of the more recent quick and athletic defenses at Florida or LSU. Guys at every position were flying around at full speed giving tremendous effort to get to the football.
I thought senior Jonathan Jones played by far his best game of the season at one cornerback spot and the guy on the other side, freshman Carlton Davis, is so much fun to watch. I would expect a lot of teams will go out of their way to avoid throwing the football in the direction of Davis next season, and by the end of the game the Memphis quarterback didn’t look eager to challenge the aggressive young cornerback.
When you play pass defense like the Tigers did against Memphis, a lot of people are doing good things. Rodney Garner’s defensive front was really make life difficult for quarterback Paxton Lynch to get comfortable and I thought the linebackers were very active. They played fast and played free. It was exciting to see safety Tray Matthews have a geat game and I thought the other safety, Blake Countess, played great, too.
Offensively, after going through a miserable stretch in the second quarter the Tigers regrouped and got cracking on offense. In the second half they looked like an old Auburn team and wore down Memphis and put the game away.
It turned out to be a good all-around day for Auburn football. With the weather threatening, coming off a disappointing regular season and playing a game with an 11 a.m. kickoff in the middle of the week, the turnout of Auburn fans was impressive. The folks who showed up at Legion Field were rewarded with an outstanding effort by their Tigers.
The icing on the cake happened after the final whistle when Coach Malzahn announced he had found his new defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele, who is making the move from LSU to Auburn. Steele is a very experienced coach who knows the SEC well. Something that got my attention is that Nick Saban hired him a second time, something he wouldn’t have done if Steele wasn’t a good football coach.
Another positive about the hire is that Steele wanted to come to Auburn enough to leave a good situation at LSU. Working for Coach Les Miles, he would have been coaching tons of talented defensive players if he had stayed in Baton Rouge. LSU probably has as many outstanding athletes to work with as any college program in the country and I believe Coach Steele will have a lot of good ones to work with at Auburn. In my opinion this hire is a real win for Malzahn and his football team.
Coach Steele is familiar with the schemes that Auburn runs because there is not a lot of difference in what Auburn and LSU were doing this season with the even and odd defensive fronts and so forth. Steele has a reputation as an outstanding recruiter so this should be a smooth and easy transition, and a smooth one for the players on Auburn’s defense.