Blockers Aim to Power Way to Title
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM Ryan Pugh
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM
Ryan Pugh
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM

Jan. 10, 2011


By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- The offensive line that will try to help power No. 1 Auburn to a national title features four savvy, seasoned veterans.

And Brandon Mosley.

The Tigers' starting right tackle is a junior college transfer who entered the season with plenty of experience -- at tight end, defensive end, linebacker and even punter. Now, he's helping protect quarterback Cam Newton against No. 2 Oregon in Monday night's BCS championship.

"This time last year the guy hadn't even ever taken a snap as an offensive lineman and here he is starting as an offensive tackle in the national championship game," marvels offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. "The kid's come a long, long way.

"And we certainly feel very fortunate that he's on our team right now."

The Tigers' big men have paved the way for Newton's Heisman Trophy season and one of the nation's top running games. They're big in both size and experience, even with the neophyte on the right.

The other four linemen have logged a combined 161 starts.

The 6-foot-8, 319-pound left tackle Lee Ziemba, the Jacobs Trophy winner as the Southeastern Conference's top blocker, has started a school-record 51 games. All-SEC center Ryan Pugh isn't far behind with 45, and guards Mike Berry (34) and Byron Isom (31) are old hands by now, too.

And then there's Mosley, who started the last 10 games after A.J. Greene was injured. He had the size at 6-foot-6, 299 pounds, but was still learning how to be an offensive lineman.

Grimes watched tape from the first South Carolina game alone with Mosley before the rematch for the SEC title. Then he pulled the rest of the group in to do it again.

"As he and I are watching it together, we were both going, 'Golly, I can't believe this was the same season, because you look like a totally different player now,'" Grimes said.

Mosley played mostly defensive end the first half of last season at Coffeyville (Kan.) Junior College, then switched to tight end. In high school, he played linebacker and punted and was an all-state tight end in Georgia.

The Auburn line has been formidable and physical, especially since the coaches called it out following the Clemson game for not being hard-nosed enough.

"I think everybody needs a kick in the butt at least once to fire you up," Isom said. "I think that we took that challenge and rolled with it."

Auburn will have a significant size advantage against Oregon's quick defensive front, not that it's anything new for the Ducks. The Tigers average 304 pounds across the front line, a 45-pound edge on average over Oregon's defensive linemen.

"They're a great offensive line," Ducks defensive end Terrell Turner said. "We have played against some big offensive lines in the Pac-10 and then we played against Tennessee's offensive line, which is big.

"We're just excited to be on this stage and see what they do."

Oregon's line features 232-pound end Kenny Rowe, who is tied for fifth nationally with four forced fumbles and has six sacks. And 6-7, 272-pound tackle Brandon Bair is in the middle.

But Oregon has faced only two bigger offensive lines all season. Tennessee's starting group averaged 312 pounds, five pounds fewer than UCLA.

Of course, the Ducks dominated both those games.

This is one case where size really doesn't matter, Grimes said.

"If a lot has been made about that, they're concentrating on the wrong things," he said. "A guy who's 270, quick, strong, explosive and plays hard, in a lot of ways is better than a guy that's 300 and can't play as hard as long, or doesn't have the quickness or lateral movement, that sort of thing.

"In no way whatsoever do I see that as a sort of deficiency in their defense."