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Kevin Steele

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Auburn’s defensive effort, scheme vs. LSU show why Kevin Steele is 1 of nation’s best

Posted Oct 30, 9:26 AM

6-7 minutes

Auburn Football

AP

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) passes under pressure from Auburn defensive end Marlon Davidson (3) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Kevin Steele walked into Auburn’s athletics complex last Tuesday and wanted to try something different. Auburn’s fourth-year defensive coordinator had been thinking about it and planning it for some time, but now he was ready to introduce it to his defense in practice.

Steele knew his defense faced a daunting challenge that week, going up against what was the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense in LSU. No team had really been able to slow down that high-flying attack, which entered last week averaging north of 50 points per game, but Steele had something up his sleeve that he thought would do the trick — a completely new, 3-1-7 look on defense that Auburn had yet to show on film.

“You know, he's the boss man,” linebacker Chandler Wooten said. “He's the boss. It was a great plan. Great plan. We all bought into it. Whenever we buy into something as a defense, it normally works. We were excited about it, and we knew it was going to, you know, cause some issues. It did.”

The scheme varied greatly from Auburn’s typical base defense, which is a 4-2-5 nickel with four down linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs (three corners and two safeties). It was also a different look than the dime package that the team also utilizes, which features six defensive backs.

When Auburn’s defense took the field for the first time against LSU on Saturday, it did so with three defensive linemen: Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and Big Kat Bryant; one linebacker in freshman Owen Pappoe; and seven defensive backs — three corners (Javaris Davis, Noah Igbinoghene and Roger McCreary) and four safeties (Jeremiah Dinson, Daniel Thomas, Jamien Sherwood and Smoke Monday).

It was a look that LSU had yet to see this season, and it proved effective, especially early on. Pappoe sacked Joe Burrow on the first play of the game, and LSU went three-and-out on its opening possession. LSU was shut out in the first quarter, and Auburn limited that high-octane offense to just 47 yards in the period.

“Defensively, we played outstanding,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “You know, I think we confused the quarterback early, and I thought that was good.”

The purpose of the new scheme, according to defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson, was to close the passing windows that Burrow and LSU typically liked to exploit in their passing attack. For the most part, it worked and slowed LSU’s offense, holding it more than 27 points below its season average.

For the game, Auburn forced Burrow into a rare interception, had two goal-line stands — with LSU coming away with just one field goal in those two goal-to-go situations — and another fourth-down stop on that side of the field. LSU ultimately finished with 508 yards of total offense, including 321 through the air by Burrow, who finished 32-of-42 passing with one touchdown and another rushing score, but after averaging .73 points per play through its first seven games of the season, LSU was held to just .26 points per play against Auburn.

“It was an awesome gameplan,” linebacker K.J. Britt said. “I really enjoyed playing it. That offense was averaging (50) points a game and we hold them to 23 points and it could have been less than that with a few minor mistakes. We were confident enough in the gameplan that if it wasn’t going to work, we were going to make it work someway, somehow. We put a lot of time in it this week. I wish we could have come out with the win.”

Auburn’s defensive success against LSU — no other team has held LSU’s offense to fewer than 36 points this season or fewer than 42 in Tiger Stadium — was a testament both to Steele and to his defensive players. The 61-year-old Steele showed why he’s one of the best defensive minds in the country, and his players displayed their acumen in being able to roll out an entirely new defense against the nation’s best team.

It’s why Auburn’s defense is regarded as one of the best in the nation this year and is on track to be Steele’s best yet on the Plains. It’s on pace to be Auburn’s best rushing defense (105.9 yards per game), third-down defense (32.5 percent conversion rate), red-zone defense (72 percent conversion rate) and second-best scoring defense (17.9 points per game) of Steele’s tenure.

“Defensively, we've got a lot of smart players, a lot of players who can grab schemes very quickly,” Wooten said. “And just a lot of talented people. Whenever you have talent plus a lot of people who can grab schemes quickly, we're able to do a lot of things like that.”

While Steele had been planning and constructing the gameplan “for a while,” according to Malzahn, the fact that he was able to implement it and that players were able to pick it up and execute it almost flawlessly in less than a week is nothing short of amazing. Steele wouldn’t roll out a new scheme in such short time if he didn’t think his players could handle it, and the players inherently trust that their defensive coordinator will put together the best gameplan possible to give them a chance to succeed.

“It’s going to work,” Britt said of his thoughts on the 3-1-7 look. “It’s going to work, no question. He’s our coach. He’s not going to give us nothing to put us in bad positions. So, we knew it was going to work. I really enjoyed it. I don’t know if we’re going to run it anymore, but I enjoyed it.”

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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It's things like this that make me want Gus gone even more. If our O genius could just field a mediocre offense this season against the teams were similarly comparable to we would be undefeated. We're squandering an opportunity this year.

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Can you imagine the last couple of years if we had a competent offense that could at least score and minimize 3 and outs where we would have been last year and this year?  Someone at worked joked watch out and you will get Lane Kiffin to which I responded at least he could run an offense and if he kept our D together, I would take him now....

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5 hours ago, leglessdan said:

It's things like this that make me want Gus gone even more. If our O genius could just field a mediocre offense this season against the teams were similarly comparable to we would be undefeated. We're squandering an opportunity this year.

2014 version:

It's things like this that make me want Ellis Johnson gone even more. If our DC could just field a mediocre Defense this season against the teams were similarly comparable to we would be undefeated. We're squandering an opportunity this year.

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I just wish the offensive players could leave a meeting this excited about their gameplan. The difference between AUs offense and defense is hard to imagine.

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Glad he didn't consult with Gus.

 

Gus: "Just run the same D you have run your entire life and blame the players for not executing."

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Hard to believe he implemented that in one week. Hats off to a coach that realizes his players strengths and utilizes them. He had Jamien Sherwood stacked right behind whomever was playing MLB and at first I thought he was a spy on Burrow. Then I realized he was responsible for any RB coming out to the flats.  He may have been responsible for both.  idk. Would love to hear Birds thoughts on that. Anyways, Sherwood was having to cover some ground. I thought his play and Roger McCreary’s coverage skills really stood out in that D.   I kept waiting for the great Gary Danials to notice that D. Just so the camera angle would show a better view of what all was going on. Of course he didn’t, he was too busy watching AU’s d-line not get held. His words no mine. I did notice when they got their 1st first down we were in our base D. Anyways, every defensive player bought in and it looked like they had been running it for years!!

Edited by TXaubie

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Decide at the end of this season but could be the I have seen. 88 was great as well as 2004. Excites me about the November JHS schedule. Like our chances.

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26 minutes ago, Tiger1992 said:

When I saw the thread title I thought, "Great, now Steele has entered the transfer portal too....".

I don't know what I thought. but i had an "OH NOOOO" type of feeling myself.

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17 hours ago, Mike4AU said:

It’s things like this that warm me up to the possibility of Steele being promoted to HC. 

Isnt he like 1-33 as a HC?

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Kevin Steele just goes for it. That’s why I like him. He’s the polar opposite of Gus when it comes to scheming and calling plays. He has his usual base defense but knows when to step away from it and isn’t scared to do so. Just like that last play against Washington a year ago. He brought the house and it paid off. I know a lot of people think the players play hard for Gus but honestly I really think these Defensive guys play hard for Coach Steele and the rest of those guys. This is an elite defensive staff that works perfectly together and I hate it is being wasted. 

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30 minutes ago, Mike4AU said:

9-36 at Baylor.  

That's right.  And didn't he get beat like 70-10 in a game?  Everyone complains about losing by 3 to LSU.  Imagine if Steele had control of our program.  

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11 hours ago, TXaubie said:

Hard to believe he implemented that in one week. Hats off to a coach that realizes his players strengths and utilizes them. He had Jamien Sherwood stacked right behind whomever was playing MLB and at first I thought he was a spy on Burrow. Then I realized he was responsible for any RB coming out to the flats.  He may have been responsible for both.  idk. Would love to hear Birds thoughts on that. Anyways, Sherwood was having to cover some ground. I thought his play and Roger McCreary’s coverage skills really stood out in that D.   I kept waiting for the great Gary Danials to notice that D. Just so the camera angle would show a better view of what all was going on. Of course he didn’t, he was too busy watching AU’s d-line not get held. His words no mine. I did notice when they got their 1st first down we were in our base D. Anyways, every defensive player bought in and it looked like they had been running it for years!!

It was something Flex and I had been talking about in PMs, We didn't call it a 3-1-7, but we talked about replacing our LB with Smoke and Sherwood. Looks like it worked out. I thought it was a great move.

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14 hours ago, PigskinPat said:

Nah

Steele for HC. ....Hope not....that would mean you lose a good DC, gain a HC who  might not be that good and still have to find another OC.   Talk about a mess, that would be one for the ages. JMO..  And as noted, if Gus goes, odds are pretty good that a new HC would want is own staff which may or may not include DC and his staff.

I figure Gus is gone sooner or later and when that happens, likely everyone is gone. 

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1 hour ago, AUCE05 said:

That's right.  And didn't he get beat like 70-10 in a game?  Everyone complains about losing by 3 to LSU.  Imagine if Steele had control of our program.  

Based on Steele’s past I think it is reasonable to question whether he would be up to the task of being the HC.  That said, I think it is unreasonable to overlook his growth since those days.

 I hate to think where AU would be right now without Steele.  Face it, without his defense,  his  head coach (who, BTW, has not shown any growth at all, and one could even make the case that Gus has regressed) would have been fired a couple of years ago. 

When Orgeron got the LSU HC job I suspect I was not the only one who questioned whether he would do a good job.  Based on coach O’s past it was reasonable for one to question his ability.  He has shown, however, that he grew as a coach and is doing a good job.  I would take O at AU in a heartbeat!

It could be argued that the most important attribute that a coach should have is to grow.  Football is constantly changing.  That has taken place since the game was “invented.”  Failure to grow and change will get a coach fired. We have a HC who refuses to grow and change.  I suspect he will be fired in the not too distant future. 

Now, back to Steele...I am not championing his hiring as the HC, but I have seen his willingness to change and his growth over the years.  I would be willing  to give him a chance.

I am not trying to change your mind.  I am simply stating how I view Steele’s possible promotion. 

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16 minutes ago, Mike4AU said:

Based on Steele’s past I think it is reasonable to question whether he would be up to the task of being the HC.  That said, I think it is unreasonable to overlook his growth since those days.

 I hate to think where AU would be right now without Steele.  Face it, without his defense,  his  head coach (who, BTW, has not shown any growth at all, and one could even make the case that Gus has regressed) would have been fired a couple of years ago. 

When Orgeron got the LSU HC job I suspect I was not the only one who questioned whether he would do a good job.  Based on coach O’s past it was reasonable for one to question his ability.  He has shown, however, that he grew as a coach and is doing a good job.  I would take O at AU in a heartbeat!

It could be argued that the most important attribute that a coach should have is to grow.  Football is constantly changing.  That has taken place since the game was “invented.”  Failure to grow and change will get a coach fired. We have a HC who refuses to grow and change.  I suspect he will be fired in the not too distant future. 

Now, back to Steele...I am not championing his hiring as the HC, but I have seen his willingness to change and his growth over the years.  I would be willing  to give him a chance.

I am not trying to change your mind.  I am simply stating how I view Steele’s possible promotion. 

I like KS as a DC.  But Garner and TWill are equally responsible for our D as KS is.  Their recruiting has been one of the few bright spots under Gus.  There is no actual facts KS has the ability to lead a major program.  

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8 minutes ago, AUCE05 said:

I like KS as a DC.  But Garner and TWill are equally responsible for our D as KS is.  Their recruiting has been one of the few bright spots under Gus.  There is no actual facts KS has the ability to lead a major program.  

Keep Garner and TWill and promote them both?  Their recruiting would stay the same as it is now.  I'd have to think KS has a history of working for some elite HC's, and he likely learned a thing or two about how to run and SEC program along the way.  As long as he had a vision of an offense and hired the staff to implement it and cut 'em loose to do their job, I'd be ok with it.

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