No. 10 Auburn’s offensive took ‘a step back’ in last game
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn’s beleaguered offensive line got pushed around at times by Arkansas.
The 10th-ranked Tigers allowed four sacks and nine tackles behind the line as the offense sputtered to its least productive game of the season. It was more evidence that Auburn’s biggest question mark coming into the season still remains an issue after a change at center to redshirt freshman Nick Brahms.
“I feel like we did actually take a step back, but we had just brought a new center into the game also,” left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho said. “I feel like that was actually kind of our problem first, but just working with him and practicing with him every day is going to bring chemistry for the whole O-line.
“We know we’ve got work to do, we know we’ve got a job to do. We’re not there yet, but we have to keep working every day and get better every day.”
It was Brahms’ first start in place of Kaleb Kim. Brahms could be forgiven if he was rusty. He missed the spring with an ankle injury and was sidelined his senior season at Navarre (Florida) High School with a broken leg.
It was the only change to the line’s starting five this season.
Auburn, which faces Southern Miss on Saturday, can’t place all the blame for offensive troubles on the line. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham doesn’t rank in the Southeastern Conference’s Top 10 in either pass efficiency or yards per game.
The Tigers rank 10th in the league in total offense. The running game has yet to take off, producing just 91 yards against Arkansas.
But the line was a concern coming in after replacing four starters, including Austin Golson, who started at four different positions last season, and second-round NFL draft pick Braden Smith .
Wanogho, a converted defensive lineman, and guard Mike Horton both opened last season as starters before losing the jobs. Left guard Marquel Harrell is the only returnee who finished last season as a first-teamer.
Coach Gus Malzahn sees progress from the line in some areas but said injuries had limited some of their practice time as a unit.
“Some things we’ve improved in. I think our communication is probably the biggest thing,” Malzahn said. “A couple of weeks ago, we were a little banged up. We weren’t able to practice like we’d like to practice to try to get some guys to the game, and that probably set us back a little bit.
“But we’re capable of being a good offensive line. I really feel like that’s going to happen sooner rather than later, because they want to. They’re some smart guys.”
He calls offensive line coach J.B. Grimes, who returned for his second stint at Auburn, “the best in the business, so I know he’s going to get him there.”
The Tigers were bailed out against Arkansas with a blocked punt to set up a field goal and Noah Igbinoghene’s 96-yard kick return for another score. A long punt return by Ryan Davis set up another TD.
That and a strong defensive effort was more than enough to offset an offense that managed just 225 yards in the 34-3 win.
Auburn’s offensive line did get a reinforcement before the season. Jack Driscoll, a graduate transfer from UMass, won the starting job at right tackle.
“We are starting to jell more,” Driscoll said. “I know it’s hard to see from a statistical standpoint, but you know, even just on my side me and Mike have become more confident just playing next to each other. And as days go on, we’ll all become more comfortable with Nick.
“He did a tremendous job Game 1, and as we build that chemistry we’re more bound to click soon and kind of really have this offense explode.”
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