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Work in progress: Auburn offensive line working to build chemistry, consistency

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson (6) celebrates hit touchdown against Louisville during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson (6) celebrates hit touchdown against Louisville during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

It wasn’t hard to find areas where Auburn’s offensive line needs to improve based on its performance in a 31-24 win over Louisville.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee credited a talented Cardinals' defense for challenging the group, but admitted the Tigers, “have a lot to clean up.”

“We turned the ball over and we hurt ourselves with penalties,” Lashlee said. “Those are two things you can’t do to win against anybody, especially a good team like Louisville.”

Lashlee viewed the holding penalties as justified; and detailed how costly they were.

A holding call on right guard Braden Smith negated a 56-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jeremy Johnson to Jason Smith.

In the first quarter, left guard Alex Kozan was called for holding penalty as running back Roc Thomas converted a short third and two for a first down. Johnson threw his first of the three interceptions on the next play.

Right tackle Avery Young almost knocked Auburn out of field-goal position in the second quarter with a hold, and left tackle Shon Coleman drew a holding flag on the Tigers’ final drive when they were trying to run out the clock.

“The one thing we're emphasizing from last year is the discipline aspect of it, false starts and pre-snap penalties or hitting a guy late out of bounds,” Lashlee said. “Those are things that you can 100 percent control all the time. A holding call, whether it be on a lineman or on a defensive back, pass interference can be attributed to, hey, that's an effort penalty. You coach the technique and the fundamentals and it's not like any of those guys were trying to hold.”

Outside the penalties, Lashlee said the line’s performance in the run game was a mixed bag.

He liked the way Auburn controlled the line of scrimmage as the game went on, but the Tigers didn't run enough plays (62), or hit enough explosive plays (six). 

“I think that’s just continuing with the offensive line developing continuity and just getting more consistent,” Lashlee said. “In the second half I think we wore them down a little bit which helped. Early on we didn’t make a lot of yards in the running game. We’ve got to generate more explosive plays in the running game. I just think that’s how they played us and some of it was it took us a while to get into the rhythm of the game, and of course Peyton came in and did a good job.”

As much experience as the group has on the edges, Young has 25 career starts and Coleman has 14 starts, the interior of the line is young. Saturday was center Austin Golson’s first start, and Smith moved to guard this season.

Smith said he graded out to an 86 percent in his first start at guard, and had eight pancakes.

Lashlee said Golson’s first start was encouraging with very few missed assignments, and a consistent snap.

“From a mental aspect he did a really good job,” Lashlee said. “I mean it’s hard to go against a really good player, their best defensive lineman, they played a lot of odd front so there was a nose on him a lot. That’s hard on a center anyways and then we’re in a dome so we’re having to go on silent count so his head’s between his legs half the time. It was a good first test for him.”

There will be no changes to the offensive line when Auburn hosts Jacksonville State. Kozan and Devonte Danzey will continue to rotate at left guard.

“You usually make a lot of improvements from Game 1 to Game 2 and we have a lot to correct,” Lashlee said. “From an offensive standpoint we did not perform well to our standard at all. So we’ve got lot to correct, so that’s the first focus.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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