Auburn football: Offensive line paves way for SEC's top rushing unit

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 5, 2013 

Auburn vs Arkansas

Center Reese Dismukes (50, right) and left guard Alex Kozan celebrate with Tre Mason after the junior running back scored his fourth and final touchdown versus Arkansas last Saturday. Todd Van Emst

TODD J. VAN EMST — Todd J. Van Emst

AUBURN, Ala. — Nothing Auburn’s offensive line has done this year has surprised Reese Dismukes.

Not the fact that three of the best single-game performances in school history have come with this year’s line paving the way.

Not the fact the Tigers have allowed just nine sacks in as many games.

Not the fact the Auburn is leading the SEC in rushing by nearly 70 yards per game, averaging more than 306 yards per contest.

Dismukes, the junior center and leader of the unit, always knew he and his fellow linemen were capable of the rock-solid play they have exhibited this season. But the miserable way last year’s 3-9 campaign unfolded obscured that, he believed.

And their accomplishments in 2013 have been evidence of that.

“I knew this was how it should be and how it should have been last year and how it is now,” Dismukes said. “I knew we had the potential to do that. I think everyone else knew that too.”

All it took was bringing in a new voice. The first name might have changed, but the transition from Jeff to J.B. Grimes was seamless. Chad Slade credited the long-time offensive line coach as the biggest reason for his unit’s year-over-year improvement.

Grimes' philosophy involves a mind-set of playing physical at all times and keeping a focus grounded solely on what’s to come.

“It’s all about the next play,” said Slade, the Tigers’ starting right guard. “He has brought a lot of intensity to the offensive line now. Coach Grimes is a person that is never going to change and he’s making us 10 times better than we are.”

Rhett Lashlee has noticed. Just take a look at last week’s game, he said. No matter how many players Arkansas was putting in the box, it didn’t make a difference.

Auburn’s line held — and more often than not, drove defenders clear out of the picture.

“That’s a testament to Coach Grimes and those guys up front and getting movement,” the offensive coordinator said. “That’s what we preach. They were able to move the down guys to where, even if you sometimes don’t get to the linebacker, when the defensive lineman is in his lap, that makes it tough. That gives that back more time to press it, make cuts. Tre was running really well.”

“Tre” being Tre Mason, who had one of the best games of his career against the Razorbacks, scoring four touchdowns and totaling 32 carries, both personal-highs. Of course, that’s been close to the norm this season, with the junior running back averaging 102.3 yards per game. He has reached the end zone 13 times, more than any player in the SEC. And he’s become the first Tiger since Carnell Williams to score at least one rushing touchdown in six straight games.

The statistical achievements for the Florida native go on and on.

Mason is the first one to admit none of it would have been possible without the five players in front of him.

“They’re becoming one of the best O-lines in college football,” he said. “I’m happy as a running back to run behind those guys and looking forward to continuing to doing that.”

As easy as they’ve made things for him, Mason is looking forward to giving back in the form of food. The junior running back has taken up baking, and wants to whip up a cake for the big men up front.

“I told those guys I’d do something nice for them,” he said. “I heard Reese doesn’t like chocolate cake, so you got to consider that part. I might do half-and-half for the guys.”

But would it be one enormous cake for the entire line?

Or five cakes in sum, one for each member?

“I’ll have to figure that out,” Mason said. “It’s some pretty big guys so we’re going to have to figure something out. All the running backs, they’re going to have to chip in on this.”

Make it vanilla, Dismukes said, and he’ll be a happy camper.

Whenever Mason delivers on his cake promise — in addition to the type he bakes — Dismukes said it wouldn’t affect the line’s hunger to dominate opponents.

Keeping the same mentality will do that.

“Any time the coach pretty much puts the game on your shoulders — as Coach Grimes says every week, ‘We’re going to put the spurs and whips on and ride y’all like we’ve been riding you all year long,’ I think that’s really the mind-set we have taken after,” he said. “We have that chip on our shoulder that we’re not going to be denied.”

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