Kevin Steele (above) is directing a defense that is allowing less than 16 points per game this season.
Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn football team worked out for right at two hours in preparation for Saturday night’s home game vs. Alabama A&M. Coordinator Kevin Steele said the goal for the defense is to continue its solid play and take another step forward for game 11 of the regular season.
“We have the challenge this week of us trying to play our best football game of the year,” Steele said. “We have asked them to try to improve each week and dominate the opponent.
“We have always said it doesn't matter who it is, what time it is or where it is, that it's about us,” Auburn’s first-year defensive coordinator said. “We have challenged them and they have responded to that. This week of practice has been very important.”
Steele noted that he hasn’t seen any lingering negative impact from the team’s loss to Georgia last Saturday.
“We had to move on quick,” he said. “That's the way it is in this business. They have come to work and had two really good days of practice. They have had a lot of energy and a lot of leadership. That is the thing that is evident on the field now.
“(Josh) Holsey, Tray Matthews, Tre Williams, DeShaun Davis, Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams, those guys are going out there and just leading these guys,” Steele added. “We have asked them to grow to that and it has kind of developed into that, which is a positive note.”
While the offense has been hit hard by injuries this week, that is a less of a problem for the defense. Two of the key defenders who have been dealing with nagging injuries are linebacker Tre Williams and DeShaun Davis.
“They’re actually doing pretty good,” Steele said. “As the week has gone on and kind of this late in the season in the SEC, early in the year on Sunday afternoon and they start feeling a little better on Monday morning. As the year wears on it takes a little bit longer. Today I saw no residual effects at all of it.”
Gus Malzahn said on Wednesday the Tigers are still evaluating whether or not to play defensive back Rudy Ford as a part-time running back this week with starter Kamryn Pettway out with a strained quadriceps injury and backup Stanton Truitt sidelined with an ankle problem.
Ford and true freshman Malik Miller are getting looks at running back in addition to freshman Kam Martin, who is expected to see his most extensive playing time of the season due to the injuries and the continuing issue of Kerryon Johnson being less than full speed with an ankle sprain.
Junior safety Tray Matthews led the Tigers in tackles vs. Georgia, the third time he has done that this season. He had eight stops vs. the Bulldogs, nine vs. LSU?and 11 vs. Ole Miss. Matthews predicted that if Ford gets a chance to run the ball on Saturday night that he will do well.
“Rudy Ford is an amazing athlete,” Matthews said. “He can definitely play a little running back, but that’s not in my hands. That’s in Coach Malzahn’s hands. Whatever he feels we need to do, we’ll do. We’ll be fine. We’ll get guys healthy.”
Ford, who has led the Tigers in tackles the past two seasons, has 54 tackles this year, which is 11 behind Matthews, the team leader.
Commenting on Ford, Matthews said, “His play has been tremendous to us. He’s a great asset to the team. He’s a leader, he’s a senior, so he knows what’s going on all the time. It’s been big having him back there with me.”
Steele said it hasn’t been a problem for Ford to miss some practice time on defense. “It really hasn’t affected us at all, it really hasn’t. We try to rep two groups so in that two groups all year long has been Rudy, Holsey and Daniel (Thomas) and (Michael) Sherwood has been an emergency guy there. We try to build it like that where we have what we have at every position, but we can move a guy from here and then we have an emergency. That’s built in across the board.”
In other news and notes:
*In addition to television coverage on the SEC Alternate Channel, radio coverage is available on the Auburn Sports Network with Rod Bramblett doing play-by-play with Stan White as the analyst, Ronnie Brown the sideline reporter, Andy Burcham doing the locker room report and Paul Ellen as the studio host. The radio broadcast is available on Sirius Channel 145 and XM 191.
*With Marcus Davis out for the season with a broken collarbone that could mean expanded playing time at wide receiver for Jason Smith. The junior is averaging 18.3 yards per catch on his three receptions.
*Going into Saturday night’s game, the Tigers have held every opponent this season below its scoring average. Alabama A&M?is averaging 26.2 points per game and has a 4-6 overall record after winning 27-20 at Jackson State last week.
*Auburn and Alabama A&M have met just once in football with the Tigers prevailing 51-7 in 2012. In that game the Tigers totaled 512 yards, including 341 on the ground with 46 carries. Alabama A&M finished with 208 yards with 186 coming through the air.
*This year’s Alabama A&M?team is averaging 391.2 yards per contest offensively and giving up 447.0, which has led to opponents averaging 37.1 points per outing vs. the Bulldogs.
*Alabama A&M’s quarterback, De’Angelo Balla, is hitting 47.4 percent of his passes with an average of 189.4 passing yards per game. He has 10 passing TDs and seven interceptions. He is averaging 68.2 rushing yards per game at 4.2 per carry and has scored seven rushing TDs.