The Auburn Tigers are 9-1, ranked No. 7 in the BCS Standings and in the process of completing one of the most impressive turnarounds in college football history. Auburn is two wins away from a Western division title and an appearance in the SEC Championship Game just one season after finishing 3-9 and winless in league play.
Those wins must come against No. 25 Georgia this week and No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 30. And these are no small obstacles for Auburn, as the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide have wiped the floor with the Tigers in each of the last two seasons. Auburn has lost the last two against Georgia by a combined score of 83-7 and Alabama 91-14.
To be sure, Auburn’s entire season is on the line at this point. But that’s not a bad thing.
The Tigers are in position for a title run largely because they boast the SEC’s best rushing attack (320 YPG). Auburn’s 3,200 rushing yards trails only Navy’s 3,331 for most nationally. Much of the credit for this ground game has gone to dynamic quarterback Nick Marshall and the Tigers’ trio of tailbacks led by Tre Mason.
There’s no question Marshall (734 YDs, seven TDs) and Mason (1,038 YDS, 16 TDs) deserve a lot of credit, but Auburn’s offensive success is ultimately on the offensive line. The big guys up front, the ones doing the dirty work along the line, are the real heroes for Gus Malzahn this season.
Despite returning four of five starters from a year ago, the ESPN SEC Blog gave Auburn’s offensive line a preseason ranking of 11th-best in the league. There’s no denying there wasn’t much to like about what the Tigers did on offense a year ago, but that was last year. And last year is a distant memory on The Plains.
What is fresh in people’s minds is the staggering success the Tigers are having this year. Too little has been said about the offensive line’s role in the turnaround. To be fair, the ESPN blog did go on to suggest Auburn’s O-line has a chance to make significant improvement in Malzahn’s offense. Unlike the low unit ranking, that opinion has proven true beyond a doubt.
Center Reese Dismukes anchors the most integral unit on Auburn’s football team. Dismukes, tackles Greg Robinson and Avery Young, and guards Alex Kozan and Chad Slade have paved the way for the Tigers’ surprising run this season. Auburn’s sixth blocker, fullback Jay Prosch, may be the best in the college game at his position at eliminating potential tacklers.
These guys have powered a Tigers’ offense that ranks first in the SEC in yards per rush (6.5), rush attempts (493) and rushing touchdowns (33). Auburn is also fourth in the league in scoring (38.6), third in total touchdowns (51) and second in total offense (493.3 YPG).
With Auburn’s two biggest games of the year ahead and its championship hopes on the line, the Tigers need only continue what they’ve done all season – put it all on the line, the O-line that is.