Auburn, Ala.--Friday night, true freshmen offensive linemen Ryan Pugh and Chaz Ramsey sat Lee Ziemba down at the team hotel and made him talk.
Ziemba is a true freshman, too, but he is now one of the veterans on Auburn’s offensive line. He’s started in all four of Auburn’s game so far this season.
Pugh and Ramsey were slated to start Saturday against the Aggies in their respective collegiate debuts, and they wanted to know what to expect. After all, this time last year they were playing in high school.
“We were anxious,” Ramsey said. “Me and Ryan were wanting to know what was going to happen. He told us it was just like high school except it was a little bit faster game. And it was.”
Probably no one would have ever thought going into this season that Auburn would turn to its rookies for its starting offensive line, least of all head coach Tommy Tuberville. He could hardly believe it Saturday.
“Three true freshman offensive linemen started,” he said. “I have never been involved with that before.”
Ziemba joked afterwards that the average age of the line Saturday night was “18.7 or something like that.”
Ziemba has started all season at right tackle. Saturday against New Mexico State, Pugh started at left tackle in place of injured King Dunlap, and Ramsey started at right guard in place of Mike Berry. The official word was that Dunlap and Berry were both banged up from last week’s tough loss to Mississippi State, but it is no secret that the offensive line has struggled this season.
Changes had to be made, Auburn’s offensive line coach said. “I wanted to see a little bit different spark than I’ve been seeing,” coach Hugh Nall said. “I’d been disappointed in some of the effort I’ve been seeing in some areas, and I thought they’d give us that effort. I think they did that. Our week in practice was better.”
Last Sunday, Nall told Pugh and Ramsey they would start.
“I had thought they’d put the redshirt on me,” Ramsey said. “I was going through redshirt workouts and everything and Coach (Nall) came out last Sunday and said, ‘Here’s your shot. Go do what you want to with it.’ I just put in a lot of hard work this week.”
That hard work paid off. Pugh and Ramsey both played with an intensity and enthusiasm that sparked a fire in the offense. Together, the offensive line protected both Burns and Cox much better than in recent games, giving Cox plenty of time to throw. It gave up just one sack in the game.
Tuberville noticed, saying it was good to see some “fresh faces” on the line.
“They competed hard and played hard,” he said. “We will wait to look at the film to see how good they did, but we got some good movement, and I thought that it was a good performance by them. They came out and almost put everybody on the line of scrimmage early to stop Kodi.”
Ryan Pugh (50) started the first college game he played in.
Tuberville said even though the rookie trio didn’t always block the right person, they played with enough enthusiasm and heart to get the job done.
“It looked like we created some more holes with 200 something yards rushing,” Tuberville said. “The good thing is Brandon had a lot of time to throw the football. That is important. Giving him time to throw is more important than blocking the right guy every time.”
Nall said he was pleased with how well the freshmen protected the quarterbacks.
“I thought they played hard and they did some good things,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll see the film and there will be some other things that need to be done, but based on the results--we gave up one sack and it was a corner crash and kind of a tough situation--but for the most part I thought they did OK.”
And he just might start them all again next week at Florida, too.
“We’ll just see,” he said. “I’ll evaluate the film and see who’s healthy next week but yeah, I kind of liked the way they played. I had a lot of fun this past week. There was a lot of enthusiasm in practice. It makes it fun to coach them.”
Ziemba said playing with his fellow freshmen was special “It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “Before the game we were kind of joking about Pugh being at tackle because he’s not your prototypical tackle (Pugh usually plays center). During the game we kind of do what we do in practice--talk about coming off the ball, trying to encourage each other. If one of us messes up, we pick him up. When I mess up, Chaz and Pugh are picking me up. It’s a good bond we have.”
What the young linemen lack in experience, they tried to make up for with heart.
“We’re young we don’t always know who to block, but if you come off the ball and don’t stop until the whistle blows, that’s the game of football,” Ziemba said. “So that’s what we try to do. It’s neat. We’ve been together since June 1. We’ve known each other longer than that. It’s neat being with them. It’s special and we’re going to keep getting better.”
“I’ve got a lot of room for improvement,” he said. “I made a bunch of freshman mistakes, but we’ll get that corrected. I was real nervous. We weren’t sure what was going to happen with three freshmen out there. But we just got after it. We’re new to all this, and we’ve got to get some things fixed. We’re not where we want to be yet.”
Game Of My Life Auburn
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