The Clemson coaching staff is very familiar with Kevin Steele from his time with the Tigers, but that doesn’t mean Dabo Swinney & Co. know what to expect from his Auburn defense on Saturday.
Since being fired at Clemson following the 2012 Orange Bowl, when his unit allowed 70 points and nearly 600 yards of offense to West Virginia, Steele has worked his way back up the coaching ladder. He’s set to coach his first game as Auburn’s defensive coordinator.
He spent two seasons at Alabama, one as the director of player personnel and one as the linebackers coach, before serving as LSU’s defensive coordinator last year.
Steele rebounded from a rough ending at Clemson, leading LSU to a top 25 defense in 2015. The fact that Swinney doesn’t have film of how he might defend Clemson with his current personnel provides a challenge.
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“We’re watching LSU and you’re not really sure – maybe they’re going to do what they did at LSU or maybe they’re going to do something different because the personnel is different,” Swinney said. “From a Clemson standpoint, you’ve got to be able to make the adjustment. That will be a big part of the game.”
While Swinney doesn’t know the specifics, he expects Auburn’s defense to be tough, physical, well-coached and aggressive, things he said are characteristics of all Steele’s defenses.
“Kevin Steele is a heck of a coach. He always has been,” Swinney said. “We didn’t make a change here because he wasn’t a good coach. He knows what he’s doing. He did a great job at LSU last year. He’s always been an in-your-face attacking defensive guy, and I don’t expect that to change.”
Even though Steele’s tenure at Clemson ended poorly there were bright spots, including the Tigers holding Virginia Tech to 10 points in the 2011 ACC title game when Clemson captured its first conference title in 20 years.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for coach Steele,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “He did a really good job last year at LSU. I believe they were No. 25 in total defense and finished 17th in rushing defense, which is very impressive in that league.”
Another person with a lot of respect for Steele is Clemson center Jay Guillermo, who was recruited by Steele out of Tennessee.
Guillermo said he remembers when a recruiting reporter said something negative about him and Steele came to his defense.
“I thought he was a great guy. I loved him to death,” Guillermo said. “There’s a reason why when he goes to all of these schools they can recruit well. People want to play for him.”
Steele has some talented pieces to work with on Auburn’s defense, especially up front with All-SEC candidates Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams.
Add in the crowd noise at Jordan-Hare Stadium and the unknown as far as how Steele might try to scheme to stop Clemson, and Deshaun Watson and his loaded offense could have to make some early adjustments.
Who: Clemson vs. Auburn
When: 9 p.m., Saturday
Where: Jordan Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
TV: ESPN. Radio: 1130 AM
Line: Clemson by 7 1/2