CLEMSON – No player on Auburn’s current football roster was on the team when the Tigers last played at Memorial Stadium in 2012, but if they want to know what the experience will be like when Tigers meet Tigers Saturday night, all they have to do is ask Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.
Steele, a native of Dillon and Furman University graduate, held the same position at Clemson from 2009 to 2011.
“It’s a typical SEC environment — Baton Rouge, Tuscaloosa, Fayetteville,” Steele said. “It’s a hard place to play. Very energetic, loud crowd. A lot of people.”
Steele, who was fired by Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney eight days after a 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl, also coached against his former team in last year’s season opener. Clemson won that game 19-13 en route to a 14-1 record and the national title.
Clemson enters Saturday night’s nationally televised clash ranked No. 3 while Auburn is No. 13 in the latest Amway USA Today Coaches Poll.
“We’ve got a big challenge this week,” Steele said after his team throttled Georgia Southern in a 41-7 rout. “We’ve got the defending national champions at their place, and they’re a very talented football team.
“They’re very good up front on the offensive line, got a stable of running backs, they just keep feeding the system with their receivers and their quarterback is very very talented.”
“I watched the game yesterday on video,” Steele said. “Obviously their old quarterback (Deshaun Watson) was a first-round draft pick and one of the best to play in modern times. But their quarterback (now) is a very good football player and has a bright future in this game.
“He’s physical-looking. A tall, slender, powerfully built guy who throws a good ball and runs really well.”
Unlike Saturday, when Georgia Southern completed only 4-of-9 passes for eight yards, Steele is expecting his secondary to receive a considerably tougher test.
Last season Mike Williams torched the Tigers for nine catches and 174 yards and Steele says Clemson has a similar threat in junior Deon Cain. Cain had two receptions for 70 yards in the Tigers’ season opener against Kent State, including a 61-yard touchdown reception.
“He’s kind of taken the role of Mike Williams last year,” Steele said. “He’s a physical, powerful guy who can run, run fast.”
“They’ve got a very sound scheme and they know what they’re doing," Swinney said. "They play hard, fast and physical. They’re confident, and they should be.
"This (game) has nothing to do with me or Coach Steele. It’s all about the guys on the field. He’s done a great job. He did a great job here for us.”
Scott Keepfer, The Greenville News