The 2011 Clemson defense featured future NFL talents like cornerback Bashaud Breeland, cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, defensive end Andre Branch, defensive end Malliciah Goodman, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and 2015 first-rounder Vic Beasley (then a callow freshman); and yet, West Virginia still hung 70 points on the Tigers in the 2012 Orange Bowl — one of the more notable major-bowl thrashings of the last 30 years.
And Steele, then the defensive coordinator at Clemson, paid a huge price for the Tigers’ 37-point drubbing in Miami, losing his job at the school a week later. He’d subsequently spend two seasons with Alabama — in front office/positional coach roles — before becoming LSU’s defensive coordinator for the 2015 season.
How did that work out? For the Tigers’ 7-0 start in September/October, the defense held the opposition to 22.7 points per game. (OK, but hardly dominant.)
For the 2-3 finish, LSU surrendered averages of 26 points per outing — a reasonably high figure which included the low-scoring shakedown of Texas A&M (19-7) to close the regular season.
All told, LSU ranked 33rd nationally in scoring defense for the season.
Citing the same category, let’s compare the program’s 2015 output to the previous nine seasons: From 2006-14, LSU earned national rankings of fourth (2006), 17th (2007), 56th (2008), 11th (2009), 11th (2010), second (2011), 12th (2012), 21st (2013) and fifth (2014) in scoring defense.
All this begs the question: Has Steele earned the right to have the West Virginia/70-point debacle expunged from our primary memory banks … or is it still the main talking point when discussing his resume as a defensive coordinator?
It’s hardly rare for offensive and defensive coordinators to jump directly to other SEC programs at a moment’s notice; but it is weird that Steele would move from LSU to Auburn after just one season on the job — especially with the Bayou Tigers positioned for a national-title run in 2016 (likely Leonard Fournette’s final Heisman voyage; Alabama comes to Baton Rouge).
And it’s not like Auburn’s Gus Malzahn boasts more job certainty than LSU’s Les Miles. The former might have been on the hot seat … if Auburn hadn’t defeated Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl; and the latter experienced an emotional goodbye with the LSU faithful on Thanksgiving Weekend (after beating Texas A&M) — only to get a last-minute reprieve from athletic director Joe Alleva. (Some would argue Miles has more power than ever at LSU.)
Steele might also get a last-minute gift from the football gods at Auburn … if defensive stars Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams both bypass the NFL draft in 2016. Their on-campus presence would go a long way toward rebuilding Steele’s image as a formidable coordinator.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.