Oct. 7, 2013
Auburn's Greg Robinson is ready to provide the blocks (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn has allowed the fewest sacks in the Southeastern Conference, but that doesn't mean the Tigers' offensive line is resting on its laurels.
"I think we've got a lot to learn even though we do a lot of good things," says tackle Greg Robinson.
Auburn has allowed only four sacks in its first five games. That's just two off the NCAA lead. And that's quite a turnaround from last season when the Tigers allowed 37 sacks in 12 games.
What's the difference?
The development of an offensive line that returned almost intact. A new coaching staff. A desire to run. The fact Auburn has attempted only 123 passes, which is the second fewest in the conference. An elusive quarterback in Nick Marshall.
"I look at it as we're just maturing," Robinson said. "Last year we gave up sacks, and things are different."
Last Saturday's 30-22 win over Ole Miss may have been a microcosm of the change. Auburn showed it can run, and now is second in the SEC in rushing.
"We challenged our guys really across the board, but especially up front, to be physical," says offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. "'Be the more physical football game,', and I really thought we were. I thought from start to finish up front, we were really trying to be physical. I think it showed as the game went on.
"Overall, I think our offensive line has done very well. I think there's still plenty of room for improvement, but I've been proud of the way those guys have worked together and really done a good job, especially in a lot of situations where people know you're going to run it."
True enough. While Auburn is 12th in passing in the SEC, the Tigers' offensive line has had fun pushing around people in the run game. That's old-school football by offensive line coach J.B. Grimes.
"We go out and focus on the little things," Robinson said. "He's been stressing that, and when that becomes important to us, it will make us better offensive linemen."
The same five players have started across the board in the first five games: Robinson at left tackle, Alex Kozan at left guard, Reese Dismukes at center, Chad Slade at right guard and Patrick Miller at right tackle. The only new starter from last year is Kozan.
Auburn's desire to run has cut down the opportunity for sacks, though it didn't last year. The Tigers of 2012 attempted the fewest passes in the league, 257, but allowed 37 sacks.
Auburn is doing much better this season, but Robinson says there's still been transition to Gus Malzahn's pace-based offense.
"We started off slow in the beginning because a lot of people were still getting familiar with the offense," Robinson said. "Eventually, when we get to the point where we can execute the offense like how we're supposed to, it'll be even better."
Marshall's running/scrambling ability was on display last Saturday.
"It just reflects that he's getting comfortable back there in the offense, and he's being able to read things better," Robinson said. "As the holes open up, he takes advantage of what we're doing up front. So I look back and he's getting more confident in us, and that's really giving him a chance to make more plays."
Robinson came to Auburn as a highly-prized recruit. He was redshirted, something he says helped him.
"My freshman year was kind of hard just like getting used to everything that was going on around me," he said. "A lot of things were moving fast for me, but I think the redshirt year was really beneficial because I just had to really embrace it and I guess deal with the situation. As I look back on it, I think it was a great decision."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine