Auburn football: Tigers' offensive line 'a blessing' for running game

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 9, 2013 

Mike Haskey mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Auburn defeated Missouri 59-42 Saturday in the Georgia Dome to claim the SEC championship. 12/07/13

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AUBURN, Ala. — Nobody can arm-tackle Tre Mason.

That’s one thing C.J. Uzomah doesn’t dispute. And when looking at Mason’s season, why would anyone care to? The junior running back has run for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns, including SEC Championship game records of 304 yards, four touchdowns and 46 carries in Auburn’s 59-42 victory over Missouri on Saturday.

The stats, without question, are impressive.

Uzomah just wanted to make sure people didn’t forget a certain position group responsible for much of Mason’s success.

“Numbers don’t lie. At all,” the junior tight end said. “To be able to do that, our O-line is the best O-line in the nation. Tre, yeah, he’s running the ball hard, but there are some holes there that a bus could fit through. He makes it look easy. Our running offense is unbelievable.”

Don’t count Mason among those surprised, though, even after the Tigers’ performance Saturday, which saw them amass 545 rushing yards on Missouri, a team that was allowing only 119.1 per game.

“They work their tails off every day,” Mason said. “Those guys open up some of the biggest holes that I've ever seen (and) that I've ever ran through. This is a blessing to have those guys in front of me.”

Corey Grant, who had 65 yards and a touchdown on just five carries Saturday, had equally high praise.

“The line did a great job throughout the whole week focusing on (Missouri’s) front four,” he said. “The D-line was the strength of their team and our O-line was fantastic.”

On the other hand, one of Auburn’s own linemen was left a tad incredulous by Saturday’s showing.

“We just knew anything was possible,” starting right tackle Avery Young said. “But it’s hard to think about running for 500 yards on a team like that.”

What was the key to Auburn’s success?

Alex Kozan noted that at every level of the defense, Missouri possessed talented athletes, including three of the SEC’s top 10 sack leaders in Michael Sam, Markus Golden and Kony Ealy. But what Missouri’s defense did more than just about any opponent Auburn had faced this season is that its line constantly shifted players around.

Kozan then gave an intricately detailed answer on what he picked up on during film study.

“Their defensive line does a lot of slants, a lot of twists — inside twists, outside twists, twists with the backers; a lot of blitzes, and they’re good run blitzes, not pass blitzes,” he said. “Not everybody sees that. And we knew we really had to prepare this week. Our scout team did a good job, and I think we were really prepared for this game, which allowed us to gash them on a couple of those (long runs) that you saw.”

While the line as a whole has been a dominating force, none stands out more than Greg Robinson. The team’s starting left tackle — charged with protecting quarterback Nick Marshall’s blindside — is already viewed as a potential first-round draft pick if he elects to leave at the end of the season.

And though Kozan wouldn’t comment specifically on the redshirt sophomore’s future pro career, he had no problem giving his take on Robinson’s contributions this year.

“If he’s not a first-team All-American, I’d like to see the guy who is,” Kozan said. “A lot of guys had hype and exposure coming into the season. I guarantee if you watch the tape — truly watch the tape — you see Greg pops out.”

Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes refused to highlight any one member of the group; then again, that fits right in with the concept of a “unit.” While the line will never garner the attention of a Mason or a Marshall, that was fine with Grimes.

Thanks to the Tigers’ effort on the ground this season, he believes the line is getting its just due.

“I can’t tell you enough about their character, their ability and their ability to look down pike and never blink,” said Grimes, repeating it once more for emphasis. “They never blink.”

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