Danny Etling and D.J. Chark are more familiar with Kevin Steele’s defense than your average Southeastern Conference football player.
The LSU starting quarterback and receiver battled against Steele’s unit each day in practice during the 2015 season. They were scout-teamers testing LSU’s starting defense, a group led by Steele, the Tigers’ defensive coordinator that season.
“I remember they were very scheme-oriented, always had creative blitzes, different ways to attack the quarterback,” Etling said. “I’m sure they’ll do plenty of that against us.”
Steele, now Auburn's defensive coordinator, makes his first trip to Tiger Stadium since he abruptly left after the Texas Bowl in December 2015. He does so with a salty unit, stingy on allowing points (13 per game) and yards (287.5).
Before a 44-23 win over Ole Miss last Saturday, Auburn was the only team in the Football Bowl Subdivision not to have allowed more than 14 points in a game. Steele's Tigers have given up the fewest point total through six games (78) at Auburn since 2008, and it's one team of just 11 nationally not to have allowed a play of 50 yards or longer.
How LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada plans to attack this unit remains a mystery, but he likely picked the brain of his offensive players and coach Ed Orgeron.
Orgeron and Steele were hired on the same day in January 2015, one to coach the defensive line and the other as defensive coordinator/linebackers coach.
“I know Kevin very well,” Orgeron said Monday.
The players do too, and they spent part of this week describing Steele’s scheme.
When Tory Carter flexes, you can see it.
It’s a base 4-3, they said, but flashes multiple fronts and uses an edge rusher, just like LSU does with Arden Key and/or K’Lavon Chaisson. Steele enjoys the linebacker blitz. He’ll bring the middle linebacker through the A gap, between the center and guard, tight end Foster Moreau said, and bring the rover inside linebacker off the edge.
Defensive end Christian LaCouture, a starter in 2015 under Steele, said the scheme is “very aggressive.”
“We were really up the field. That’s what coach Steele always emphasized, try to get knockbacks and pushbacks,” LaCouture said. “As you see those guys playing, they’re doing a lot of stuff like that. I just know for them it’s really aggressive and a physical mindset up the field.”
Multiple players described Steele's system at LSU as heavy on scheme, and many around the program said his defense here was complex — sometimes too complex.
Steele’s 2015 unit was known for significant secondary lapses, often in the form of blown coverages. He played an array of zone defenses here, moving LSU temporarily away from man-to-man. It caused problems.
The system he runs at Auburn is a simplified version. His unit still holds that attacking principle, though. Auburn’s sack total of 15 is third in the SEC. The attacking mindset lends itself to screens or draws, plays LSU executed well at Florida.
Could we see more of that this week?
“Got a little bit of everything. Got Danny Etling draws, tight end screens, receiver reverses, tackle throwbacks,” a smiling Moreau said. “Bunch of different stuff.”