Walking out of Jordan-Hare Stadium a year ago following Auburn’s annual A-Day football game, I was not impressed with the offensive line play. The rebuilt group didn’t perform like a smoothly functioning unit and lost too many one-on-one battles vs. their teammates on the defensive front.
Even taking into consideration that last year’s Auburn team was deep and talented on the defensive front, there were reasons for concern.
This past Saturday, the offensive line’s performance was one of the highlights of the 2019 spring game. On certain plays it seemed the quarterbacks had enough time to read a short article in The Villager while waiting for a receiver to get open. That was a big change from 2018 when all too often the Auburn quarterback was in duck and cover mode when dropping back to pass.
Each of Auburn’s scholarship quarterbacks won praise for their performances in the A-Day game and deservedly so. However, they received big assists from the offensive line that allowed the foursome to put up terrific numbers as Joey Gatewood, Bo Nix, Malik Willis and Cord Sandberg combined to complete 36-48 passes for 434 yards with five touchdown tosses and just one interception.
The offensive line was still a concern when the Tigers opened vs. Washington last season in Atlanta and the situation was compounded with both of the top centers, Kaleb Kim and Nick Brahms, trying to fight through injuries. The line had its struggles much of the 2018 season vs. good competition, but got better late in the year. When the Tigers open the 2019 schedule vs. another opponent from the Pac-12, the Oregon Ducks, the situation on the offensive front should be much better.
Someone who would definitely know how much the offensive line has improved in the past 12 months is Auburn’s top defensive lineman, Derrick Brown. The big tackle said what happened on Saturday was a continuation of the good play he has seen from the group throughout the spring. He noted the O-line is working together and giving the defensive front a real test in practice.
With all five starters back and each being a redshirt senior, the line should be a real plus for the guys throwing the passes and running the football for Gus Malzahn’s team. We will likely see what a major difference a year’s worth of work can make.
This is the most important week of the season for the Auburn equestrian team. Looking to win back-back to national titles, the Tigers arrived in Waco, Texas, this week for the nationals with a 15-0 record as they try to become the first team in their sport to go undefeated from start to finish.
Coach Greg Williams has fielded five national championship teams and all of them were special, but if the Tigers run the table this week and bring home another championship trophy he will likely say this is the most talented group in program history.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter