Auburn, Ala.--Having to replace departed starters Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick at offensive tackle and how the line would respond was the biggest concern for Auburn’s offense heading into the 2006 season. If game one is a good indicator, the Tigers look like they should be strong on the offensive front again this year.
Piling up 40 points and almost 500 yards of total offense, Auburn powered past Washington State to get the year started with a bang. Not bad for a unit that wasn’t together much of the preseason because of injuries.
Senior center Joe Cope says that all in all it was a good night for the offensive line despite some struggles from all of the guys and not just first-time starters King Dunlap and Jonathan Palmer.
“We had some first game jitters,” Cope says. “King made his first start and I think he did a great job. JP (Palmer) did a great job. It just takes a while when you get into that live action and get it going. The first play of the game (42-yard run by Kenny Irons) I thought we did a good job, but we’ve got to work on finishing.
"As a whole I think we did pretty well," Cope adds. "We kept each other up when things didn’t go right. That’s what you need is that friendship on the O-Line.”
Joe Cope is shown in a preseason workout.
What should help both Palmer and Dunlap move smoothly into their new roles is having veteran starters Ben Grubbs and Timmy Duckworth beside them to pick up some of the slack if needed. Two of Auburn’s most experienced players and likely NFL draft choices following this season, the duo has proven time after time they can perform at a high level. Grubbs says that from the start they let the tackles know that they would be there when needed.
“I think they did a great job,” Grubbs says. “I told King from the jump that he had 94 on his side a lot and I had his back. I told him if he comes inside I’m going to bust him. That’s what we did. King has faith in me and he knew that his inside was taken care of. JP did a great job with Duck over there was well.”
Ben Grubbs came to AU as a defensive player, but has found success on the offensive side of the football.
While they gave up several sacks overall the line played well for a first game, head coach Tommy Tuberville says. Paving the way for Kenny Irons to rush for 183 yards and a touchdown, the group wore down Washington State’s defense in the second half, but it was the first half that they always came back to when talking about the night.
“It felt real good but it could have been a whole lot better,” Duckworth says. “We got in the red zone so many times and we couldn’t punch it in. Hopefully, we’re going to do better than that next week.
"We’re going to go out Monday and practice hard on finishing. Coach (Hugh Nall) always preaches finishing. That’s basically what the offensive line has to do as a whole. When you’ve got running backs running like Kenny and Brad and Carl and them you just have to take advantage of it.”
The group of running backs provided the final push for the offense as the Tigers threw the ball just five times in the second half, but managed to put 21 points and 343 yards on the board. Grubbs says that it’s going to be tough for teams to shut down Auburn’s offense because of the wave of running backs the Tigers can throw at teams.
“They had no idea that we had that many weapons back there,” Grubbs says. “We’ve got great running backs here. You put Kenny in and let him pound the ball and then you put Brad (Lester) in as the more shifty running back. It’s great.”
Now the Tigers face a Mississippi State defense that caused problems for South Carolina Thursday night in a 15-0 loss to the Gamecocks. While Brandon Cox and the passing game may have to come up with more plays against a stingy Bulldog defense, Cope says you can expect to see plenty of the running game as well because that’s what Auburn does best.
“We’ve got a stable of them back there,” Cope says of the running backs. “They should start calling us Running Back U. We’ve got a bunch of guys that can play. We’re excited to block for those guys. We’ll keep on blocking and hopefully they’ll keep on getting yards.”
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