AUBURN, Ala. — Kevin Steele has made it clear in his first season at Auburn that it doesn’t matter what the opponent does.
Now Steele wants the Tigers to know that it doesn’t matter what the final score reads. Once the calendar flips to a Sunday after the game, he wants them to move past the result — whether it’s a loss in an early-season slump or a historic blowout against Arkansas.
“So, all in all, it was a very good, complete game,” Steele said Sunday, one night after Auburn’s 56-3 rout of Arkansas. “It’s over. It’s done with, and henceforth, as far as we’re concerned, until the banquet occurs and they show highlight tape, they’re not allowed to talk about Arkansas except to say ‘Thank you.’
“And that’s just kind of the way it is. We’ve moved on to Ole Miss.”
Although Auburn would have plenty of things to boast about from its 53-point victory against Arkansas, Steele wants to completely put it in the rearview mirror.
Holding the SEC’s leading rusher to 22 yards on 13 carries, knocking down Austin Allen 14 times on 38 dropbacks, keeping the Razorbacks from scoring a touchdown — the message is for Auburn to move on from all of it.
“We’ve preached it, and we preached it (Sunday),” Steele said. “It’s not a sermon that hasn’t been preached since we’ve arrived. … There’s no guarantee, so we will keep preaching it.”
Steele said Auburn is relying heavily on its veteran leadership to make sure the message gets indoctrinated with every team member. Whether Auburn gets its first truly dominant win of the SEC slate or drops a disappointing loss, the focus can’t waver.
“It doesn’t matter if we win or lose,” senior defensive tackle Montravius Adams said. “It’s just on our leadership group to keep everybody levelheaded and keep everybody with the same mindset that we have every game so we can go out the next game and try to get better. Just try to keep doing what we do best.”
The Auburn coaching staff saw that attribute in this year’s team a week before the domination of Arkansas inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. During the off week, the leaders made sure there wasn’t an inch of slacking off from the Tigers.
“There were all the reasons in the world to lose a little bit of the edge in practice,” Steele said. “(The players said), ‘Hey, we have to work as hard this week as we’ve worked all year long.’ … They came out and did that on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and they really did it because of the leadership on the team.”
That attitude is even extending to the players not under Steele’s command.
Starting right guard Braden Smith said the offense feels the same way about the massive success against Arkansas, when it rushed for an SEC regular-season record-breaking 543 yards.
“There’s always going to be that because you don’t ever want to get complacent,” Smith said. “Like I said, there’s always places you can improve on. You want to correct that going into the next week and get better and keep taking steps forward.”
Of course, avoiding complacency was easy for Auburn’s staff to preach during the slow start to the 2016 season. The real challenge begins this week. The Tigers are gearing up for a trip to Ole Miss after a massive blowout against a ranked opponent.
“The thing was when you’re 1-2 is how do you keep them alive and keep that process going and them believing in the process so that they keep working to master their technique, to master how to play with great effort, to master how to be physical, to play one play at a time,” Steele said. “Well, we got through that, and now they’re experiencing success. So, the process now is how do you put things behind you and go back to work and know that the success you’ve had is because of the work you had.
“There are going to be extreme successes in this process, and you have to put that behind you and move to the next.”