AUBURN — Kevin Steele never thought the sport of football would force him into the schematic situation he finds himself in this week.
After 34 years of coaching college football, Auburn’s defensive coordinator is telling his players to disregard a lot of what they’ve worked on before this week. LSU’s arrival to the 2016 schedule marks the first time the Tigers will see a traditional I-formation, pro-style offensive look.
“I never thought I’d stand before a group in the third week of the season, and ‘Well, we have a little adjustment to make, we’ve got to go out there get lined up against I-Pro and I-slot,” Steele said Sunday. “I never thought I would say that. That’s where the game is.”
Steele said Sunday that his defense has “periodically stolen a snap here and there” against power running formations because Southeastern Conference divisional opponents such as LSU, Arkansas and Alabama still use those offensive philosophies but they’re becoming rarer in the current state of the college game.
Every day in preseason practice, Auburn’s 4-2-5 defense saw the constant hurry-up, no huddle shotgun formation led by Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. In its first three games, Auburn opponents used a version of a spread system with at least three wide receivers and a zone blocking run scheme out of the shotgun.
“You just don’t see that 22 (two tight end) or even 21 (two tight end, one running back) systems anymore in the league and that’s been the major difference in this league over the last decade,” Malzahn said. “It really puts an emphasis on your scout team offense to give your defensive coaches the proper look this week in practice.”
Auburn’s scout team quarterback is walk-on Devin Adams from Mississippi Delta Community College but Auburn’s roster only features two scholarship tight ends so scout team walk-ons Keenan Sweeney and Caleb King might be critical to replicating LSU’s overloaded offensive front.
Auburn’s linebacker depth may be tested Saturday as LSU’s does huddle more than any of Auburn’s opponents and force defenses to run fit with bigger players instead of relying on speed.
“I think it’s kind of a different mindset,” Auburn defensive tackle Montravius Adams said. “It’s really time to play ball. Everybody has to make those tackles and everybody has to be in their gap in be in their spot. Going against a good back like that, we have to do what the coaches put in the plan.”
Steele, who has coordinated defenses at Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Auburn, described his experience as a linebacker coach at Nebraska under Tom Osborne from 1989-94 to how he feels doing against an offense with a tight end, fullback and two wide receivers in its primary package. Steele is comparing the stylistic difference to practice this week to when his Nebraska linebackers would see a wishbone offense from Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma program.
“It sounds kind of strange but it’s like, ‘OK, put everything you know now to the side because we have to have this different game plan,’” Steele said. “The way you prepare for this, it’s almost that different.”