By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn's offensive line is settling in, thank you very much, and is winning national attention as well as praise from the head coach.
"They're playing very physical. They did a great job the last few games," says Gus Malzahn.
Auburn's offensive line was named a midseason honoree last week for the Joe Moore Award, which honors college football's top offensive line for "a high level of toughness, effort, teamwork, consistency, technique and 'finishing." Saturday, Auburn's offensive line will be asked to help lead the Tigers past Arkansas at 5 p.m. Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"I think every offensive line plays better towards the end of the season than they do the beginning of the season because you have more cohesion, more communication and you can really work with the guys next to you better the more snaps you play together," said guard Alex Kozan.
The offensive line has helped Auburn to No. 3 in rushing in the Southeastern Conference, and the line has done it despite changing its original lineup. Xavier Dampeer began the year as the starting center, but a leg injury slowed him, forcing the Tigers to move Austin Golson from left tackle back to his old position.
Enter Darius James, who took over at left tackle and the Tigers just kept going with a reconfigured line of James, Golson, Kozan, Braden Smith and Robert Leff.
Malzahn said Golson made an easy transition back to center.
"There's nothing like experience. He's a very good communicator, he's a good director. He's a good center, and a very good left tackle, too."
Then came James. "He's a big athletic guy," Malzahn said. "He just lacked experience. He played very physical last week. We ran behind him a lot early. He did a super job. He's a good pass protector on the blindside of the quarterback."
"Darius," Kozan said, "has really stepped up when he's got his opportunity here in the last couple of weeks
"As a run-blocker, he's done better than I expected. Then as a pass-blocker, he's been very solid. I don't think he's given up any sacks or anything like that. Darius has really been focusing on improving during practice, and that's allowed him to play better in games.
"We are ready to roll with whoever is in there."
So is Malzahn. "Depth was something we were concerned about. You can see the group getting better with our communication."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine