AUBURN, Ala. — As the final seconds ticked off the game clock in Oxford, Miss., on Saturday, Auburn celebrated a hard-fought road win over Ole Miss.
On Sunday, however, Kevin Steele’s defense started addressing an uncharacteristically flawed performance.
“It was not really to our standard,” Steele said. “I don’t think any of our players would tell you that it was.”
Auburn allowed 32 first downs and 9 third-down conversions throughout the game. The only other matchup in which the Tigers gave up 29 points was their loss to Texas A&M in mid-September.
Part of the issues stemmed from opposing quarterback Chad Kelly, who zipped completions to Rebels receivers for most of the evening.
“That was a very talented young man that was taking the snap,” Steele said. “He was very accurate. The receivers did a good job.”
Kelly amassed 465 yards through the air — he shattered Archie Manning’s 47-year-old record for single-game passing yards (436) — in Ole Miss’ 40-29 loss to the Tigers.
But the mistakes and mishaps could be a good thing as No. 9 Auburn plays its last four games and starts putting together a College Football Playoff resume.
The back-and-forth contest against Ole Miss caught the attention of several players.
“It gave us an opportunity to re-center ourselves to get back to what got us where we are,” defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “That’s been a very good positive for this week. We’re almost going back and not starting over — because you can’t do that, and it doesn’t exist in this world — but re-centering what our priorities are.”
Kelly completed 36 of his 59 total passes on the night, the most by an opposing quarterback this season (Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight only attempted 40). The Rebels also moved quicker on offense than they had all season.
“That kind of caught us off guard for a moment,” cornerback Carlton Davis said. “Their offense, their record doesn’t show it, but they’re a great team to play against and compete against, especially at home.”
Ole Miss’ incessant air attack presented another hurdle for Auburn’s defense: fatigue.
“We can’t allow that to happen. That occurred,” Steele said. “I’ll say this because I’m saying it in a positive: There were certain guys where that was not an issue. There were some guys that played really good and tackled well the whole game, more than not. There were some things we had to clean up there. But when you play that many snaps — and when I say ‘but,’ that’s not an excuse ‘but’ — but when you play that many snaps, you put yourself in a situation that you’ve got to turn it up a notch.”
Still, Auburn was able to take several positives from the win. Though the Tigers didn’t get to Kelly every time, they did affect him. Auburn had 2 sacks and 7 quarterback hurries.
The defense also responded in the second half in particular. Senior defensive back Josh Holsey came up with a game-clinching interception and the line made two fourth-down stops.
“We had to retool some things,” Steele said. “We got together as it was going. It’s kind of hard to completely get everything retooled on the sideline, but we got most of it retooled at halftime.”
Steele said the best thing about the poor performance was the defense’s response — defensive leaders emphasized the need to make corrections for him and key players such as Carlton Davis took initiative to fix mistakes.
“When that happens it makes coaching a whole lot easier,” Steele said. “That means they’ve bought into the process that it’s about the next play; it’s not about what anyone else does, it’s how we do what we do and the relentless effort, pursuit, physicality, tackling and then playing with technique.”