Help power Tigers’ productive rushing
By ANDY BITTER
AUBURN, Ala. — As Onterio McCalebb raced down the field on his 70-yard, game-winning touchdown run against LSU, Auburn’s wide receivers picked themselves up off the ground behind the play, satisfied with the role they had in it.
Never miss a local story.
Emory Blake chipped a linebacker, Kodi Burns picked up a cornerback while Terrell Zachery buried another 15 yards downfield, springing McCalebb to the perimeter, virtually untouched.
“We knew we were a big part of that play and we made that play spring like it did,” Blake said. “We take a lot of pride in blocking on the perimeter.”
The offensive line has gotten the bulk of credit for the Tigers’ rushing success, and rightfully so, but the blocking by Auburn’s wide receivers has played a major role in helping the team turn itself into a rushing juggernaut.
“The guys have bought in,” Auburn wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said. “They’re doing a great job. And they understand with the backs and the quarterback we have, if you get them on the perimeter, they have the chance to score.”
With the way the Tigers have geared their offense this year, it’s been a necessity. Auburn has rushed the ball on 72 percent of its plays.
That has left fewer passes for the wide receivers. Darvin Adams, the team leader with 26 receptions, is well off last year’s pace, when he set the single-season school record with 60 catches. Zachery (21 catches) is Auburn’s only other wide receiver who has reached double digits this year.
That isn’t likely to change, especially with the way quarterback Cam Newton has been running the ball.
“Every wide receiver wants to catch the ball; that’s what wide receivers do,” Blake said. “But right now, running the ball is helping us win games, and that’s the most important thing, and we’re going to block our butt off on the perimeter no matter what.”
Taylor credits head coach Gene Chizik with emphasizing perimeter blocking during two-a-days, wanting to establish a physical edge.
“Catching is not a physical edge,” Taylor said. “You can be relentless going after balls or attacking it while it’s in the air, but for us to have an edge like that, it has to come through blocking.”
Taylor prioritizes it, not doing blocking drills before or after practice but in the middle of it. He begins individual periods with blocking drills before any of the receivers start catching passes. The statistics he looks for are TCBs: touchdown clearing blocks.
“You’ll hear them talking on the bus or hear them talking in the locker room, ‘Did you see my block? Hey, coach, I got me one. I peeled back ’ ” Taylor said. “And that’s fun. It’s contagious, and it goes throughout the whole football team.”
Others have noticed.
“In many cases, what the receivers do with their blocks is more important than what we do with the interior,” offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said. “Everybody has to do their part.”
“That’s what makes a team, in my opinion,” Chizik said.
With the emphasis on blocking, receptions are more cherished.
“If we’re only throwing 14 balls, and we only throw one to you, what should you probably do?” Taylor said. “You probably ought to catch it, because it may be a long time before you get another one, especially if you drop it.”
Given how Auburn has fared this season, Taylor thinks it’s an easy sell.
“We’re winning, and that’s the bottom line for us,” he said. “If we throw it 10 times or if we throw it 20, it doesn’t matter as long as we come out with the ‘W.’ ”