By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Three months into his job as Auburn's defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele saw potential for the performance the Tigers delivered in their 40-17 win over Georgia.
"I felt like when we went through the spring practice the first year that we had the talent on the grass to become a dominant force and do it on a consistent basis," said Steele, whose defense ranks No. 9 nationally.
It took time to add to that talent the required chemistry, accountability, responsibility and ability to prevent the previous play from affecting the next one, Steele says. Defensive maturity occurred when the leaders fully invested, prompting buy-in from their teammates.
"They command and demand it," Steele said. "When it becomes inbred into each individual in the leadership then it starts becoming a habit. But the hard thing is to just keep repeating it."
That will be the challenge this week when Auburn hosts Louisiana Monroe at 11 a.m., and next week, when the Tigers play Alabama at 2:30 p.m. in an Iron Bowl showdown for the SEC Western division.
Against Georgia, Auburn missed only four or five tackles in Steele's estimation, accepting the coach's challenge to progress from good to elite.
"Where you dominate your opponent in a way that, play after play after play, that it affects the whole game in a major way," Steele said.
That's what occurred against Georgia, with Auburn holding the Bulldogs to 46 rushing yards on 32 attempts, an average of 1.4 yards per carry.
"We just try to reach greatness and be an elite defense," linebacker Darrell Williams said. "That's our goal, and we're just going to keep making that step to get to it every week. Coach Steele talks about it and he gets us on that track and makes sure we do what we need to do to get that done."
Jeff Holland set the tone with a sack on Georgia's second series. With nine sacks, Holland shares the SEC lead.
"He plays the game because he loves to play football," Steele said. "When you have a work ethic like he's got, and love to compete like he loves to compete. It doesn't shock you where he is at all."
With a trip to the SEC championship game on the line next week, Steele will resist the temptation to begin preparing for Alabama at the expense of studying ULM.
"I've grabbed that pot on the stove before," he said. "It will burn you. No. We did that in offseason, we did it some in fall camp. This week it's totally about having a dominant performance and repeat of last week in the stadium."
Steele, who emphasizes effort, toughness and tackling, credited Auburn's defensive line for thwarting Georgia's run game by controlling the line of scrimmage
"I'm proud of the guys," Steele said. "They stepped up to the challenge, they answered the challenge, and we've got to build on this and go forward."
And if Steele, a nominee for the Broyles Award for college football's top assistant coach, receives any postseason accolades, his acceptance speech would be a tribute to the players he coaches.
"This is not golf," he said. "We don't go out there and play with our own bag and our own clubs and our own ball and everything counts for us. It's a group effort. The players play. Coaches don't play. Any award that comes, it's the players. Whatever award that the group gets, they deserve it."
"Do what we do, practice hard, execute & play relentless." @holland_jeffery on @AuburnFootball 'seizing the moment.' 9️⃣ sacks tied for No. 1 in @SEC. (AU season record: 11.5, @Nick_Fairley251, 2010) pic.twitter.com/cVWg0sjB5z
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) November 13, 2017
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer