Malzahn already thinking about Clemson, says Kevin Steele has made a difference
|Tuesday, July 12, 2016, 3:35 PM- -|
It’s safe to say that Clemson’s coaches and players are already thinking ahead to the season opener at Auburn on September 3rd, and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn made it clear this week that he’s already looking ahead to Clemson.
ESPN announced back in May that the matchup between the two Tigers will sit in one of it’s primetime slots on September 3rd, kicking off at 8 p.m. local time to Auburn but 9 p.m. EST. The game will mark the Golden Anniversary of Clemson/Auburn football – it’s the 50th time the two programs will square off. Auburn leads the series 34-13-2, but Clemson has won each of the last games, knocking off Auburn 38-24 in Death Valley in 2011 and beating Auburn 26-19 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta in the season opener in 2012.
Auburn defeated Clemson 27-24 in Jordan-Hare in 2010, an early key win in its national championship season.
Malzahn was asked about the matchup against the reigning ACC Champions during SEC Media Days on Monday, and he said the game will be a litmus test to see just exactly where Auburn stands among the nation’s elite.
“It would be huge. There’s no doubt. Deshaun Watson is maybe the best player in the country, he’s phenomenal,” Malzahn said. “We’re at home. We’ve had success with first games in the past. I’m excited about it and it’s going to be a heck of a game. (These are) things to motivate you. The urgency’s been very good. We’re going to find out where we’re at early, which I like as a head coach.”
Auburn finished seventh in the SEC West after entering the 2015 season as the favorite to win the SEC Championship, and defensive end Carl Lawson (a former Clemson target) said that complacency crept into a program that played Florida St. for the national title just a few years ago.
“Complacency, we let that creep into the program and that’s not what we are trying to let happen this year,” Lawson said. “We are going to be held to a standard no matter what happens that season, we are going to be held to that standard the entire season.”
There will be storylines galore for the game, and the biggest of all might center around Kevin Steele. Clemson’s former defensive coordinator is now the defensive coordinator at Auburn after stops at Alabama and LSU. Steele coached at Clemson from 2009-11 but was let go after the debacle in the Orange Bowl against West Virginia.
Steele’s defense at LSU finished 25th nationally in total defense in 2015. Steele replaces Will Muschamp, who was at Auburn for one season (Auburn finished 71st in total defense) before taking over as head coach at South Carolina last December.
Malzahn says Steele has already made a difference in the Auburn program.
"When Coach Muschamp went to take another head coaching job, I really wanted somebody that was familiar with our conference," Malzahn said. "I wanted somebody that was a true professional, somebody that had the same philosophy that I have, and it really — all of the boxes fit with Steele.”
Malzahn said Auburn’s talented defense is having fun under Steele.
“We're blessed to have a guy like him. Our defense has responded extremely well,” Malzahn said. “They were having fun. You can just sense it when you go in the defensive staff room. They are all on the same page. It's a great feeling. And he's really looking forward to working with our defensive players and the rest of our defensive staff is, too."