AUBURN, Ala. — Kevin Steele sees plenty of differences between this year’s Alabama offense and the one from when he was last on the Crimson Tide staff in 2014. He sees plenty of differences between this year’s Alabama offense and the one he scouted in 2015 as LSU’s defensive coordinator.
Steele sees differences in the offense Alabama will bring to the Iron Bowl and — well — any other one.
“From last week, it’s changed a lot,” the Auburn defensive coordinator said flatly Sunday night. “It’s a lot different offense than it was five years ago, three years ago, even in some ways a year ago.”
Steele credits that state of constant evolution in the Alabama offense to its coordinator, Lane Kiffin. Alabama promoted Steele to linebackers coach prior to the 2014 season, when Kiffin replaced Doug Nussmeier.
Although Steele only spent one season on the same staff as Kiffin, he has tremendous respect for the former USC head coach and his success with the Crimson Tide.
“Their offensive coordinator is really a very, very bright offensive mind,” Steele said. “He’s a very good play-caller on game day. I think one of the best things that he does is that he utilizes his people. I think that’s evident in the fact that in the last three years, he’s had three different starting quarterbacks. The offenses have looked different, but the production hasn’t.”
This season, Kiffin engineered a currently undefeated Alabama offense with a true freshman quarterback. Jalen Hurts emerged as Alabama’s top option at quarterback after a long, multi-way position battle and a dazzling debut in the Tide’s season opener against USC.
Hurts is responsible for 30 total touchdowns this season while throwing just 7 interceptions. He averages 270 yards of total offense per game and has a chance to be a Heisman Trophy finalist by season’s end.
The dual-threat Texan allowed Kiffin to do different things in the offense than what he did with former starters Blake Sims and Jake Coker.
According to Rainer Sabin of AL.com, Hurts’ passing opportunities are mostly coming from shotgun or pistol sets rather than the traditional under-center formations that have defined the Nick Saban era.
“I think they’ve tailor-made some things for him,” Steele said. “They do some of the same things. There’s other things they feature with him, just like when two years ago as opposed to last year, things were different.”
Even with a true freshman quarterback and a lack of experienced faces at running back, Kiffin’s strategy remains bold and highly effective.
The Auburn coordinator who says he “won’t coach scared” on defense sees the same fearlessness from Kiffin on the offensive side of the ball.
“I think he’s very quick and creative,” Steele said. “He calls the game with no fear. He asks players to do things, and he puts it in their hands to execute. And he does a great job of that.”
IRON BOWL 2016: Steele reports clean bill of health for Auburn defense
In 2015, Kiffin’s Alabama offense put up 434 yards of total offense and 30 points on Steele’s LSU defense. Kiffin relied heavily on eventual Heisman-winning running back Derrick Henry, who carried the ball 38 times for 210 yards and 3 touchdowns.
But things are different for Kiffin’s offense this season. In fact, Alabama has played four games in which the entire team didn’t record 38 carries.
Steele is expecting a lot more variation out of up-tempo looks — and possibly a few surprises — from the creative mind of Kiffin in this Iron Bowl matchup. And he’s getting his defense ready for all of it.
“We’ve got to practice smart, but practice with strong fundamentals,” Steele said. “A big part of this game will be eye control. There’s a lot of moving parts in the offense we’ll face, so we’d better get to work and work at a pace that we normally work at.”