Kevin Steele Sees Positives In Auburn's Defensive Performance Vs. Clemson

The Auburn football team returned to practice on Monday evening. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele gives his take on his first game as an AU coach.

Auburn, Ala.--Back on the practice field for a light workout on Monday evening after taking Sunday off, the Auburn football team has turned its attention to game two vs. Arkansas State while also trying to correct mistakes from its season-opening loss to Clemson.

The majority of problems on opening night were on the offensive side of the ball, but Auburn’s new defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele, said the defense has room to improve, too, but noted that he was generally pleased with the performance of his players while not being happy with the final score.

“As far as what transpired in the game, obviously we’re disappointed,” he said. “A loss is a loss in this business, there’s no way to cut it. Our job as a defense is to make sure we keep them to one less point than what is scored. That is what has to happen and we are not going to accept anything less than that. That is the thing we challenge them with.

“Nineteen points against that offense, that’s a good number, but I’m old enough to remember, some of you guys covering us I know you don’t know, but there used to be football games that were 10-9 and 13-12 and 9-6 and 6-3. I’m old enough to remember those games, some of you are not. Maybe that’s why it’s ingrained in my system that it doesn’t matter what the other team has, you need to make sure you’ve got one more than they’ve got.

“It’s not something we’re going to accept,” the coach said of losing. “We’re going to work very, very hard to build on the positives of the game. There were some very good positives on there--3.4 yards per rush against an offense that has been very prolific running the ball for an extended period of time with basically the same group of guys.

“I thought the coverage in terms of, that was a very, very talented quarterback...I don’t think anybody would argue that in any stretch of the imagination, but the thing that didn’t happen is that we didn’t get the top knocked off the coverage. There were not explosive, long plays for easy touchdowns over the top of people. We had good tackles on the catch, every catch was contested and we tackled it relatively quick.

“Probably the thing that jumps out to the people, I guess if you just looked at the same and said okay what would you do different or take out, obviously the two third down pass interference penalties which kept the ball moving. We have got to eliminate third down penalties. We were 65 percent successful on third down and our goal is 70 percent so we didn’t make that. We’ve got to eliminate those penalties.

“The other thing is probably a little bit frustrating, they did a great job with a very, very accurate quarterback on the four or five back shoulder throws. After the game I felt like there were about 25 of them, but the truth of the matter is that there were four or five.

“There were four of them that they hit and he stuck it right on the backside shoulder dead on it every time. We had relatively tight coverage on every one of them, but having said that probably if I had it to do over we would be a little more sensitive.

“We could have played split-safety coverage or two-high and that’s not there, but we did have to pressure some and when you do pressure you’re going to be middle of the field coverage and that’s what happens. We’ll get that corrected and move forward.”

The Tigers practiced for slightly more than an hour on Monday evening after having meetings. Steele said he liked what he saw as Auburn began preparations for Arkansas State.

“As far as the next game, the guys came out today and had very good focus,” the defensive coordinator said. “There was a seriousness about them. We challenged them to practice like pros and we do that every day. They did that, they communicated well and were on top of what was going on.”

The Tigers are scheduled to practice Tuesday through Thursday for Saturday night’s home game vs. the Red Wolves.

Commenting on the Clemson game, Steele said, “As far as how guys played, across the board we felt like we didn’t have a lot of critical errors and we didn’t have a lot of mental errors. As a whole, we felt like we have a very good starting point, but we aren’t satisfied with a loss.”

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson threw just one touchdown in the game, hitting a third down and goal to go pass from 16 yards out on a perfect throw against an Auburn safety blitz.

“There was a reason for that,” Steele said. “They had completed the smash seven, well we had an interference call but it could have been completed and the other one they hit. That's kind of their go-to route in that situation, the smash seven route.

“I'm not the smartest dude in the world but I kind of said, ‘They're getting ready to run the smash seven,' which they did. The object of that was trying to get it out of his hands as fast as we could. He did a great job of peddling it and the receiver did a great job of breaking the route and just hit it. Looking back, I might say, 'You know what, I would cover that.' I'm not going to call games scared. I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to sit there and say, 'Well, what if?' We called it. We pulled the sword out and we took a swing at it and it won't be the last time.”

In other news and notes:

*Auburn’s game two opponent, Arkansas State, is looking to bounce back from a 31-10 home loss to the Toledo Rockets. The Tigers lead the series 3-0 vs. Arkansas State with the last matchup a 38-9 decision in 2013, Gus Malzahn’s second game as Auburn’s head coach after having that assignment at Arkansas State the previous season.

Arkansas State returned a dozen starters from its 2015 Sun Belt Conference championship team that posted an 8-0 record in league play.

*Auburn has a 23-0 all-time record vs. teams from the Sun Belt Conference. 

*Kickoff for Saturday’s game is set for 6:30 p.m. CDT and it will be televised by the SEC Network.

*Senior Marcus Davis led the Tigers in receiving vs. Clemson with five catches a career-best 56 yards.

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