Even as the Auburn Tigers have had an up-and-down season, the defense has been consistently good.

In only the second year under defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, the Tigers are already the 14th-best defense in the country in terms of yards allowed, giving up only 302.8 per game.

Steele’s defense was impressive last year as well, but this year’s Auburn defense has taken a big step forward, which has put the Tigers in a position to pull off some major upsets down the stretch.

It won’t be easy for the Tigers to take down No. 3 Georgia or No. 1 Alabama in the coming weeks, but with an elite defense, the games should at least be competitive.

Here are five stats that show how much better Auburn’s defense is this year than in 2016:

25 sacks

Last year, the Tigers recorded 25 sacks, led by Carl Lawson’s 9.5. Through eight games this year, they’ve already matched that number.

Even without Lawson in the mix, the Tigers have been making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, led by Jeff Holland’s 7.5 sacks.

In 2016, five players recorded at least two sacks for the Tigers, another number they’ve already matched this year.

Steele’s unit thrives on bringing pressure from many different spots, and as he’s gotten more comfortable with his personnel, he’s putting players in position to succeed.

56 tackles for loss

Currently, the Tigers have the 11th most tackles for loss in the country, bringing down opposing quarterbacks and running backs behind the line of scrimmage 56 times in eight games.

After recording 83 such tackles last season, the Tigers are on pace to surpass that number, too.

Negative plays kill drives for offenses and build momentum for defenses, and not many players in the country have been better at stopping opponents behind the line than Holland, who is currently 22nd in the nation with 10 tackles for loss.

The junior linebacker has been great, but his teammates have stepped up, too. Auburn has 20 defenders who have at least one tackle for loss.

16.6 first downs allowed per game

One of the best measures of a defense is how often it is able to get off the field on third downs, as long, sustained drives where opposing offenses pick up first down after first down wear out even the best defensive players.

Last year, the Tigers allowed 19.2 first downs per game, but this year, it’s down to 16.6. Granted, Auburn still has games against potent Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M offenses on the schedule. But so far, Steele’s unit has cut down on allowing opponents to move the chains without giving up longer plays in the process.

After allowing 10.5 first downs per game through the air in 2016, the Tigers are only allowing 7.9 per game in 2017.

9 fumble recoveries

Loose balls are often a 50-50 proposition, but the best teams always seem to find ways to come up with a good number of fumbles.

Last year, the Tigers only recovered six fumbles, which is a shockingly low number for a team with a defense as good as Auburn’s.

This season, the Tigers’ fortunes have reversed, as they’ve already recovered nine fumbles — more than one per game. Considering they’ve only forced 10 fumbles, the nine recoveries is an impressive number.

That luck might change as the season wears on, but if Auburn (led by Holland’s four forced fumbles) keep forcing opponents to put the ball on the ground, good things should continue to happen for Steele’s crew.

26 plays of 20+ yards allowed

Last season, Auburn’s defense gave up 55 plays of 20 or more yards, 4.2 per game. This year, they’ve cut that down to 26 long plays in eight games, 3.3 per contest.

Only 10 of those plays have gone for 30 or more yards, so the Tigers have really limited their opponents’ explosive plays.

Coupled with fewer first downs (mentioned above), Auburn’s opponents are possessing the ball less. When you combine that with the Tigers’ possession-based offense, it’s a recipe for success.

If Georgia or Alabama don’t take the Tigers seriously, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see Auburn pull off a massive upset in the coming weeks.