AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn admits something has been missing with the Tigers’ once-dominant rushing attack.
Malzahn said Tuesday in his weekly news conference there were a “couple of factors” to Auburn’s downturn on the ground through the first five games of 2017. But Malzahn spoke extensively about one in particular — the offensive line.
“We’ve had a lot of different lineups up front, and the communication and working together in front of each other is very important,” Malzahn said. “I think you will see that continue to improve now that we’ve kind of got our lineup set up front.”
Malzahn said Auburn is “planning” to stick with the starting offensive line it used Saturday night in a 49-10 win over Mississippi State.
Graduate transfer Casey Dunn will start his third straight game at center, and senior Darius James will be back at right tackle in his second start since a Week 3 neck injury. Senior Austin Golson, who played center and right tackle this year, will be back at left tackle. Sophomore Mike Horton and senior Braden Smith remain the same at guard.
Former starting left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho, a sophomore, will keep his role as a blocking tight end in jumbo packages.
“He’s a very talented player, he just needs experience,” Malzahn said. “That was the plan, to play him in a little bit of the heavy set tight end last week and he did a solid job. Then you know, he’s still getting reps at left tackle — that’s his primary position. He’s going to be a really good one before it’s all said and done.”
The new-look offensive line, which made its debut as a group in the third quarter against Missouri in Week 4, did well in protecting quarterback Jarrett Stidham in his highly efficient performance against Mississippi State. Malzahn expects that improvement to carry over to the running game in time.
“I think we’ll be able to build upon things up front,” Malzahn said.
Auburn averaged 6.26 yards per carry last weekend against Mississippi State, its best mark since the season opener. The Tigers rank 52nd nationally in that statistic at 4.53 — and they finished 17th last year at 5.47.
Auburn sophomore running back Kerryon Johnson, who leads the team with 300 yards and 9 touchdowns this season, said the shuffling from James’ injury has played a big part in the running game’s slow start.
“You start out with a line all fall camp, and then the first game or the second game, D. James goes down,” Johnson said. “So it’s like, OK, we’ve got to shift here. We’ve got to get a new center. AG, put him wherever the hole is. And then they’ve got to get their chemistry back.
“Some lines, they play all year and don’t get full chemistry. Some go through all fall camp and don’t get full chemistry. It takes time, is what I’m saying.”
Auburn hopes the experience of the four-senior line will pay off soon, as the Tigers play three road games in four weeks after this weekend’s matchup against Ole Miss (noon ET/11 a.m. CT on SEC Network).
The backs behind them have faith that it’ll happen.
“(They’re) definitely getting there,” Johnson said. “They have a great coach. We give them time in practice and in walkthroughs and film and stuff to make sure they’re prepared for the opposing defense. They’ve got some great leaders in AG and Braden, and I think that they’re getting there.”
The post Auburn football expects offensive line to improve with new starting lineup in place appeared first on SEC Country.
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