AUBURN, Ala. — Despite the seriousness of Iron Bowl team meetings, Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele had time for a joke.
Auburn’s defense, fresh off its first shutout since 2008, met its season-long objective of holding an opposing offense scoreless. The unit that ranks top 20 nationally in total defense posted the shutout. But the starters weren’t the only reason for the goose egg.
In fact, Steele suggested the opposite.
“We kind of joked in the meeting room today when we reviewed the film that those guys actually played better than the starters did,” Steele said Sunday. “The starters didn’t have six 3-and-outs in a row.”
Auburn set the shutout goal every game this season. It’s part of Steele’s every-week objectives, but it’s more of a star to shoot for than an expectation. Even against an FCS opponent, posting a zero spot doesn’t come easy, especially when starters are relieved by backups without much in-game experience.
Auburn’s second-stringers — the ones that didn’t get the start because of injuries — didn’t want that on their conscious, however.
Out of halftime, the second-string unit held Alabama A&M to three-straight, three-play drives with one ending in an interception. The Tigers allowed one first down the following possession before two more back-to-back three-and-outs.
So to fact check Steele, it wasn’t quite six in a row. But it was impressive from the less-utilized group, nonetheless.
“Well, obviously, when we were pretty inundated with guys who don’t start the game — some of them had some playing time, some of them didn’t have many snaps — we talked about at halftime going out there and defending every blade of grass every snap. Defend every blade of grass,” Steele said. “And they responded.”
OK, so it was only Alabama A&M. The matchup with Alabama this Saturday will be entirely on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of opponent talent. But, like Steele indicated, shutouts are rare regardless of opponent.
It meant more, though, for its Iron Bowl scene-setting.
Alabama is the blueprint for deep defenses all over the field. The Crimson Tide has lost a couple of its top defensive talent, including starting safety Eddie Jackson, but the unit hasn’t slowed whatsoever.
That’s the point Auburn wants to reach, and the second-string Tigers showed Saturday they’re close.
“We challenged the guys to try to improve and create a situation where we could get a lot of meaningful snaps for a lot of folks and they did that,” Steele said. “Proud of the guys that they went out, and they had it on their mind to get a shut out, which is hard to do in any football game.”