Defensive back Rudy Ford (above) is Auburn's leading tackler going into game six.
“We have had a good week of practice,” the defensive coordinator said, noting that he likes the team’s focus. “
“Obviously there are some challenges in that we have to be who we are. We have to play to our standard. It's not about the opponent, never will be. It is not about who we play, where we play, what time we play, but obviously all those things are different this week. We have got to make sure that our guys understand that to the fullest.”
The Tigers, who are 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the SEC, are looking for a third consecutive victory after defeating Louisiana-Monroe 58-7 on Saturday.
“We challenged the guys to get better and play with energy and focus and improve because it was about us,”Steele said. “We feel like they did that. Then we got to play in that game a lot of people. We got a lot of reps for some young guys that was much needed.
“They did some good things, but we have obviously got some work to do with the backups. I?am a little frustrated. Our standard is a certain thing and we didn't quite accomplish that. The yardage was pretty low when the starters left the field.
“I won't say it accumulated out of sight or was a major problem, but it was little things and execution that we have got to get cleaned up because we are going to need those guys to produce later in the year. We have told them that many times and now we have got video of it to prove it. That part was a positive and a negative in itself.”
Steele is a new member of Auburn’s coaching staff this season as is the secondary coach, who won praised from the defensive coordinator following Wednesday evening’s practice.
When asked why he thought the secondary is having success this season, Steele said, “No. 1 is they’re very well coached. I think Coach (Wesley) McGriff does a very good job teaching technique, demanding that they do it right and staying on them about affecting the guy they line up on.
“That has been very positive and we’ve got the right guys back there. Holsey, Davis, Davis—and probably another Davis in there, too—and then Stephen and Tray and those guys. They’ve embraced that and they’ve kind of taken it.
Wesley McGriff previously coaches with the NFL's New Orleans Saints.
"They have got a lot of pride, a lot of energy, and they’re trying to make sure that they do what they’re asked to do and affect the opposing team,” Steele pointed out. “They are doing a good job of it, for the most part. Now, that’s a hard job. It’s a hard job.
“Occasionally, we will have a little mistake that we have got to eliminate. As we go on into league play, we have got to eliminate those things, but they are very good at correcting mistakes. I think a little bit of what you're seeing is every time you usually see a very, very good secondary somewhere in close proximity is a good pass rush, regardless of what the sack numbers say. When you start seeing seven, eight, nine hurries, as well as some sacks, the clock's ticking: 'Get rid of the ball.' That helps, too.”
Mississippi State, which has had an extra week to prepare for the Tigers, has a 2-2 record and is 1-1 in SEC games.
Sean White made his Auburn debut in last season’s game vs. Mississippi State. The quarterback noted that he feels like he has made significant progress since then.
“I think I’m a lot different,” White said as he prepares for his 12th collegiate start. “I have so much more experience under my belt playing in a lot of SEC games, playing in a lot of games. I think that will help as far as being more confident and comfortable going on the road in a tough environment. I think it will help me.”
Going into Saturday’s game Auburn freshmen and sophomores have combined for 2,108 yards of total offense, which is 86.3 percent of the team’s total through five games.
“That is what we hope for,” said White, a redshirt sophomore. “I think that’s definitely possible because all the guys who are young are contributing and are really hard workers. Nobody is complacent. No freshman is like, ‘Man, I’m making plays and I don’t need to come to practice or whatever.’ Everyone is coming to work and everyone is playing with a chip on his shoulder. That is the best thing to see.
In other news and notes:
*Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. CDT with TV coverage on the SEC Network from 61,337-seat Davis Wade Stadium.
*Auburn Network radio coverage of Saturday’s game can be heard on Sirius Channel 83 and XM 190 with Rod Bramblett, Stan White, Ronnie Brown, Paul Ellen and Andy Burcham proving the coverage.
*The Tigers lead the series 61-26-2, but have dropped the previous two matchups 17-9 last season at Jordan-Hare Stadium and 36-23 two seasons ago in Starkville. Gus Malzahn is 1-2 vs. the Bulldogs while MSU coach Dan Mullen,who is 57-37 overall in eight seasons at MSU, is 3-4 vs. the Tigers.
*Auburn comes into the contest with a record of 79-38-6 in road openers and the Tigers are 42-35-6 in SEC road openers. Auburn is 12-6-1 all-time in games played at Starkville.
*One of the keys for Auburn’s defense is defending senior receiver Fred Ross, who led the SEC in receiving yards last year. “He has a lot of speed,” senior defensive back Josh Holsey said. “They use him a lot of different ways. They just try to get him the ball in a bunch of different type of ways. He’s like a go-to-guy.
“You have to really know where he’s at and kind of know what the formation presents itself where he’s going to try to get the ball,” Holsey added. “He’s a big key to their offense.”
*Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald also leads the Bulldogs in rushing. Commenting on defending the6-5, 230 sophomore, Holsey said, “With mobile quarterbacks the big thing they kind of harp on in practice is plastering your man. When mobile quarterbacks get out the pocket sometimes if they start running, you want to come up in coverage. The one time you come up in coverage and they hit you right over the top for a big one.
“Our big thing is to just stay in coverage and let those great D-linemen and linebackers handle that,” Holsey added. “If it breaks to us then make the play and save the day.”