By Justin Graves
The Cullman Times
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. —
Ryan Pugh sat back and thought about the journey.
From losing seasons and coaching changes to playing for a BCS national title. It’s been quite the ride for the Auburn center.
As is the case for the other three seniors on the Auburn offensive line. This bunch has gone from liability to arguably the team’s most important piece.
“It’s special,” Pugh said. “The four seniors have put in a lot of time together. We’ve been through a lot.
“We’ve been through losing seasons. We’ve been through winning seasons. Now we’re here, playing in the national championship game. We like to believe it’s all because of us, but we know that without great players around us, great coaching, that we wouldn’t be where we are today. It’s the bond that the offensive line has on this team, because we all get along.”
Pugh doesn’t have to speculate about whether Auburn’s offensive line play has elevated the Tigers into national championship contention.
Sure, Cam Newton has gotten all the accolades.
That tends to happen when a quarterback has the best season in SEC history.
But Newton isn’t a one-man show. He’s far from it.
Even Oregon coach Chip Kelly will tell you that.
“It’s not just one guy,” Kelly said. “Their offensive line is big, physical and very good.”
Auburn has put up gaudy — almost mind-boggling — offensive numbers this season. That’s something the Tigers’ offensive line can hang their hats on.
Auburn has rushed for 3,733 yards and thrown for 1,452 while averaging 42.7 points per game.
And the offensive line played an integral part in all of them.
Don’t believe it? Take a glance at the film from the SEC Championship against South Carolina.
Newton threw for a career-high 335 yards and four touchdowns. What doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is how much time he had in the pocket.
In that game, there were times when Newton was able to stand up to seven seconds in the pocket unpressured. Auburn’s big mollies were responsible for that.
But that type of production is what Auburn coach Gene Chizik expected from this veteran group, even though the Tigers’ offensive line didn’t live up to its potential at first.
“I felt like they had an opportunity to be good,” Chizik said. “I felt like there was a lot of experience going into the season and I felt like there were better days ahead of them, for sure.
“From about ball game No. 3 (against Clemson) we really challenged them. We didn’t feel like they were playing up to the potential they had, and we challenged them. And the great thing about our team and our guys, particularly our offensive line, is they respond. They’ve responded well.”
Respond, indeed. All the way to the BCS National Championship Game.
Since that Clemson game, Auburn’s offensive has been practically unstoppable. And the big guys up front are a major reason why.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed, either. At least not inside the Auburn locker room.
“They’re a fun group to watch and to coach,” Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “I just told them and broke it down: those guys helped us to get to this point. We love them and we appreciate them and they’re a big part of why we’re here and we can’t wait to watch them play.”
* Justin Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 257 or by e-mail at email@example.com.