AUBURN, Ala. — One big play can skew how an entire box score looks. Auburn was a testament to that Saturday night against Texas A&M.
Trayveon Williams’ 89-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter took the Tigers’ overall performance in run defense from solid to sloppy in the final stat sheet. Auburn allowed 6.2 yards per carry against the Aggies — the most since last year’s 45-21 beatdown at the hands of LSU.
And with that same LSU team and superstar running back Leonard Fournette on their way to Jordan-Hare Stadium in six days, Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele sent a strong message Sunday night: The performance went beyond the one big run, and it was far from satisfactory.
“As far as run defense, it’s not acceptable,” Steele said Sunday night. “It’s not to our standard, and it will be corrected and corrected immediately.”
Take out Williams’ huge run, and Auburn’s defense only allowed 3.9 yards per carry to the Aggies. It’s still a half of a yard more than the Tigers’ Week 1 performance against Clemson. Auburn allowed 6 rushes for 10-plus yards after allowing just 2 through the first two weeks of the season.
There were positives in that area, but Steele is laser-focused on the negatives — the ones that allowed those explosive gains on the ground.
“When you watch the film, there’s some really, really good plays on there,” Steele said. “Some good run fits, some good tackling. I think probably the culprit of (Williams’ touchdown) was a total misfit, a miscommunication and that falls on us as coaches to get that corrected. But it also falls on them to make sure they’re paying attention to the process and problem-solving when something like that happens.”
One major area Steele and his staff keyed on Sunday afternoon is missed tackles. Auburn had a higher rate of those than they did against both Clemson and Arkansas State. Even though the defense kept Auburn competitive for most of the game, junior linebacker Tre’ Williams thought the unit let the team down in that category.
“I mean, it’s really on us,” Williams said. “We got to get our technique down and just remember the fundamentals. Sometimes you lose that within the game and that’s something we cannot do. And that’s something we’re going to work on this week in practice.”
While Texas A&M is still a work-in-progress in terms of the rushing attack, LSU is not.
Fournette led the nation in rushing yards per game last season and put up 228 yards on just 19 carries against Auburn in 2015. Backup running back Derrius Guice has rushed for 177 yards in three games and is averaging 6.8 yards per rush.
“Well, obviously, (Fournette is) a very talented young man,” Steele said. “But it still goes back to what you’ve heard me say before … We’re about, it’s what we do. It’s about how we line up. It’s about controlling our gap. We’re not going to ask anybody out there to take more than one zone, one man, one gap.”
In Steele’s eyes, it’s all about what Auburn does to slow down Fournette instead of what Fournette does to attack Auburn. That makes assignment football and high-level technique paramount to Saturday’s crucial SEC West showdown with the Bayou Bengals.
And that’s why he made it clear that what Auburn has done so far this season against the run hasn’t been good enough.
“As far as how we’ve done for the three games, we have made progress in the run game,” Steele said. “But when you look at the totality, it’s not to the standard we’ve got to have in the SEC. It’s just not.”