KEVIN STEELE (PHOTO BY JASON CALDWELL)

Auburn Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele Says Auburn Preparing for Major Test In SEC Football Opener

Comments from Auburn's defensive coordinator plus news and notes are featured as the football Tigers continue preparations for a home test vs. Texas A&M.

Kevin Steele (above) made the move from LSU to Auburn to coach defense fro Gus Malzahn.

Auburn, Ala.--Preparing the Auburn defense to prepare a Texas A&M offense averaging an SEC-leading 49 points and 557 yards per game, Kevin Steele said the Tigers will have their hands full with the Aggies on Saturday night.

“This is a monumental challenge because it's in the SEC, the first SEC game, the veteran defensive coordinator said after Wednesday night’s practice.

“They have a very, very good quarterback (Trevor Knight), who has played in big games, albeit at another school (Oklahoma),” Steele said. “I guess the UCLA game was a big game for A&M, their opener, but he has got more than that under his belt.

“He is a very efficient passer and very efficient runner. They have a lot of skill and they are massive in the offensive line so the challenge is going to be huge. It's a huge challenge, but that's why we play in the SEC.”

The Tigers practiced for more than two hours on Wednesday evening putting in the game plan for Saturday’s 6 p.m. kickoff. Coach Gus Malzahn’s teams worked in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts after going in full pads on Tuesday.

Auburn comes into game three after defeating Arkansas State 51-14. Steele said the defense played well, but has plenty of room for improvement.

“There were a lot of good things in that game,” he said. “I thought there were things we built on from game one. We are still giving very good effort. We're still trying to be physical. Our tackling, there was a little bit of it later in the game and some of it was with the younger guys, that was not as crisp as it needed to be. We have  addressed that. Obviously, that is a work in progress.

“As far as that game in its totality, on a positive note, it was a win,” said Steele, who joined the Auburn program this season as defensive coordinator. “It was a very solid win in terms of the scoreboard, but that's not the way we look at it. We look at it as our execution and how we perform on each and every play, and the majority of plays were played like an Auburn Tiger defense.

“Now, we had a couple of plays and, obviously, I think you know which ones I'm talking about, in which it was totally unacceptable,”?he pointed out. “If it's something that is hard that we haven't covered, then that's on us, but if we worked on it then we are expected to execute it and that's the thing we've got to get to the point we are meticulous with our execution on things like that.

“Things that are relatively routine football plays, we cannot let them get us in situations where we have an explosive play,” Steele added. “Now, we've been very limited in the explosive plays in the run game, extremely limited. In the passing game, we've not let them knock the top off the coverage, but those two the other night was pretty close to it--about as close as you can get without completely saying it was knocked off and that's unacceptable. We worked on that this week and we've got to get it corrected.”

Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Dontavius Russell has held on to his starting role despite increased competition for playing time this season. The Tigers have used 11 players on the front four through two games.

“Depth always can help any position on the field,” Russell said. “It helps us a lot because we are able to be fresh by the end of the game and stuff like that so you are not as winded or as gassed. When people can come in who can play as well as the players who started the game off, that’s always beneficial.”

Russell and his teammates on the defensive front will be taking on an offensive line that has been rebuilt since last season. Winning the majority of those battles will be important with quarterback Trevor Knight a big-play threat with his arm and his feet.

“I know they have a really talented tackle,” Russell said. “That’s what my coach has been telling us...I feel like they have a really good offensive line. The offense is doing really well so obviously the offensive line is doing really well.”

A new starter on the front four this year is end Marlon Davidson. The true freshman from Greenville High joined the team in January.  “He has a sack,” Russell said. “He has been playing pretty well, making plays outside the box and running really well.”

In other news and notes:

*The Auburn Network’s radio broadcast featuring Rod Bramblett, Stan White, Ronnie Brown and Paul Ellen is available on Sirius channel 83 and XM 202. Kickoff is set for shortly after 6 p.m. CDT.

*TV coverage is on ESPN with Dave Fleming doing the play-by-play with Brian Griese as the analyst and Todd McShay the sideline reporter.

*Auburn, which won last year’s game 26-10 in College Station, trails the Texas A&M series 4-2. The Aggies are 2-0 in games at Jordan-Hare Stadium with the last one a 45-41 decision in 2014.

*The 2-0 Aggies, who are ranked 17th in AP and 20th in the coaches poll, are led by Coach Kevin Sumlin, who is in his fifth year in charge of the program. He has a 38-16 record in College Station while Gus Malzahn is 28-14 in his fourth season with the Tigers. The Aggies have an 18-7 record under Sumlin in games not played at Kyle Field.

*Texas A&M?is looking for a third consecutive 3-0 start, something that hasn’t been done by the Aggies since the 1929-1941 seasons.

*Auburn, which is 1-1, is coming into the contest following a 51-14 victory over Arkansas State. The Tigers finished the game with 706 yards, including 462 on the ground, the fourth highest rushing total in school history and the most since gaining 545 vs. Missouri in the 2013 SEC Championship Game.

*With Kamryn Pettway rushing for 152 yards and Kerryon Johnson adding 124 and two scores, two Tigers topped the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time 2014 vs. South Carolina. The Tigers are 9-0 in games under Malzahn with two ball carriers topping the century mark.

*Johnson, who is just shy of 1,000 all-purpose yards for his Auburn career, heads into game three with a team-leading 219 rushing yards, which surpassed his freshman season total.

*Texas A&M features two receivers with more than 100 career catches. Josh Reynolds has 109 and Ricky Seals-Jones has 103. Preseason All-SEC sophomore Christian Kirk is seven catches shy of 100 and is tied for the SEC lead in receptions with 13 in two games. In last week’s rout of Prairie View A&M, Kirk passed the 2,000-mark for all-purpose yards.

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