AUBURN, Ala. — Coming off a 38-14 win, Auburn gets a much-needed bye week prior to back-to-back SEC West matchups against Arkansas and Ole Miss.
Through six games, Auburn ranks 28th in the nation in total defense and 28th in the nation in total offense. Auburn has catapulted into the AP top 25, at No. 23. The Tigers are beginning to establish themselves as a legitimate SEC West contender with the meat of their schedule still ahead of them.
Gus Malzahn’s weekly Tuesday press conference has been replaced by coordinator interviews with offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.
Here’s what they had to say.
- Steele is the first to the podium.
- “We had some concerns. Anytime you travel of the first time with the team. And you put on top of that kickoff is 11 a.m. in the morning,” Steele said. Team has bought in to being ready no matter where or when it’s playing.
- “They came out with great effort. There were times in the game when we played really, really good,” Steele said.
- “We’ve got some teaching moments from the game,” referring to a few missed tackles in the second half.
- Coaches have begun the process of looking at Arkansas. Players are still working on fixing mistakes and technique. All players were there, but a few were limited.
- “The next team we play is obviously very effective running the football,” Steele said of Arkansas.
- On importance of that opening stop vs. MSU: “That was a big swing. We got things turned around.”
- “They got better. There are some good teaching moments on there. I don’t think they affected the quarterback as much as that first group did,” Steele on the performance of the second-string defensive line.
- On Byron Cowart progression: “He made the plays he’s supposed to be involved in. There hasn’t been anything where he gave up anything. He’s still learning that position in terms of what we’re asking him to do. As he matures, grows older, he’ll be fine.”
- Steele said he “challenges” Jeff Holland to be more effective in the run game. Pleased with his pressure in the passing game.
- “They called 41 pass plays. On 20 of those plays, we affected those pass plays” with deflections, interceptions, sacks, pressures, etc., Steele said.
- “He’s very intelligent. He’s physically mature. But he’s emotionally mature. He plays relentless. There were several plays in the game he made in that game in the screen game. He plays with a great motor,” Steele on Carl Lawson.
- No more concerns about Montravius Adams consistency. “He would tell you that he needed to step up and make more plays and be more productive. How he’s done it, I think it’s just the process of how we’ve gone about developing those guys. Continuously hammering home technique.” Added some maturity as well.
- More on Adams: “He is commanding double teams inside,” Steele said.
- “Today, we gave everybody out there two things they need to work on.”
- Steele lists out “musts” before games. “The No. 1 thing this week is affect the quarterback in the running game and the passing game. We couldn’t let him get going,” Steele said. “That really never got going.”
- Carlton Davis “has done a good job in multiple game of staying on top of their best guy,” Steele said.
- Steele: “We do, in the open date, a self-scout of ourselves. We do a statistical average of where everything is … Yes, we do study that. We make markers of where we’ve got to improve. That’s kind of where we build this week. We build this week on those things. For example, we’ve kind of gone down and played some good rushing offenses. But statistically, we’re not where we want to be in terms of rush defense.”
- Steele: “I could stand here and tell you that I didn’t think we could be here. but the truth of the matter is, every player and every coach want to be able to look at something and be able to say we’re doing this pretty well. We’re getting better. We’ve got a lot of ways we can improve. Now how can we make it better? Did I think we could be that? Yes. Did I know exactly how it was going to unfold? No.”
- Rhett Lashlee on his way in for his presser.
- Lashlee: “The thing I was most pleased about was being wide awake and ready at 11 a.m.”
- Wasn’t as happy with ball security, called it “sloppy” and referred to the turnover to start the game as a “terrible” one.
- “We had 4 penalties and probably 3 of those were good calls. We’ve got to get those corrected,” Lashlee said.
- With Clemson, LSU and A&M behind them, Lashlee looks back a the first half: “We’ve had about as tough a schedule as anyone. We’ve got about as tough a back end as anyone too.”
- Was that Sean White’s best game? “He was very steady again. Overall, he probably graded out the best. We didn’t have the ball much. He had one ball he overthrew. Other than that, I thought he played pretty well.”
- There has been some trouble on opening drives. “In the past, we’ve probably been better on opening drives. It goes to us not executing early on,” Lashlee said. “It’ll be a matter of us executing better. It would be better to start faster than we have.”
- Balance has been better since Lashlee took over play-calling, Malzahn said. “The mix was pretty good,” Lashlee said. “That’s just something we’ve worked on. That’s something around roughly a 65 (run) 35 (pass), which is probably about right.”
- “50 plays at halftime is pretty good.”
- “It helps you a lot,” Lashlee said, referring to feeling confident opening up the passing game on all downs with Sean White.
- Lashlee on Xavier Dampeer: “He wasn’t 100 percent. We felt we had good continuity the day before. When our medical people said he was at about 85 percent, we figured it would be better to throw five healthy guys out there.”
- “Darius James is getting better. He’s held his own.”
- On Robert Leff: “His pass protection has gotten better from game 1 to game 6. Robert’s just been real steady for us.”
- Auburn getting back to its identity? “We’re working toward it,” Lashlee said. “We’re picking up tempo. We’re executing well in the passing game. We’re efficient. Tempo allows us to run the call better. I don’t know how much it has to do with the plays getting called.”
- “That first touchdown was big for us” in the red zone, Lashlee said. “It got us jumpstarted a little bit.”
- Will Kerryon Johnson be back for Arkansas? “It’s very important because he’s one of our best players. He’s progressing very way, maybe better than our trainers thought on Saturday.”
- “We know what the strengths of our guys are. We’re six weeks in. The bye week allows you to get healthy.”