Nov. 6, 2013
Auburn's Gabe Wright had a hug for Arkansas State earlier this year (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. - Tennessee's offensive line allowed the third fewest sacks in the nation last year and this year it has already powered the Volunteers to more rushing yards than in five of their previous eight seasons.
Those kinds of facts have caught Auburn's attention heading into Saturday's 11 a.m. game in Knoxville.
"Best offensive line we've played all year," declared Auburn defensive end Dee Ford. "Very big and strong."
And very experienced. Tennessee's starting offensive line has combined for 162 career starts. Auburn's rotating defensive line has 106 combined starts.
Tennessee's offensive line had to adjust last week when freshman Joshua Dobbs replaced started in place of injured Justin Worley. The Volunteers struggled, losing to Missouri 31-3 on the road. But Tennessee is better at home, and that's where Tennessee, 4-5 overall and 1-4 in the Southeastern Conference, will try to rebound against No. 7 Auburn, 8-1 overall and 4-1 in the league.
Tennessee's offensive line was ranked the second best in the nation in the preseason by two football publication. That line has been part of the transition to new head coach Butch Jones, and has found its footing.
Auburn will counter with an experienced, and deep, defensive line. Eleven different defensive linemen have recorded sacks, and Auburn is second in the SEC and 16th nationally in tackles for a loss.
Still, Ford, who is second in the SEC and seventh nationally in sacks per game, says Auburn's defensive line will have work to do.
"We've yet to play the best game as a D-line," he said.
Tennessee turned to the pass with Dobbs, and that could be enticing to an Auburn defense that has 21 sacks. But the Volunteers like to tout the success of their experienced offensive line, which has allowed 10 sacks this year, and allowed an SEC-low eight sacks last year and an SEC-low 36 sacks over the last three years.
"It's another challenge for us," said Auburn defensive lineman Gabe Wright. "The SEC is going to bring some of the top talents. Tennessee brings a different challenge. They are big, but most of all they're experienced. This is what you get week in, week out.
"I know they've got a freshman quarterback in now, and I know he brings a different offense to the table. They have a lot of talent around him."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: