A quick glance at Auburn’s notable offensive numbers last week likely would lead one to conclude the line played well.
The Tigers scored 41 points. They totaled 535 yards of offense, running for 351 and throwing for 184. They averaged nearly seven years per play, ending up at 6.8. And of the Tigers’ four penalties, none was committed by an offensive lineman.
But looking deeper, one would be able to find issues with the line’s performance.
Auburn allowed Georgia Southern to collect three sacks. Worse, the Eagles totaled eight tackles for loss.
During his weekly press conference Tuesday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said the offensive line was continuing to develop chemistry.
“One of the pass protection issues where we got hit was more of a miscommunication than anything,” Malzahn said. “It is a new group working together beside each other.”
Still, Malzahn walked away with a positive feeling about the group’s potential.
“More than anything,” he said, “(it) just confirmed that we have a chance to be really good up front.”
Auburn will face a far stiffer test than Georgia Southern on Saturday: Clemson, the defending national champion. The teams faced off in last season’s opener at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which Clemson won 19-13.
It was a forgettable offensive showing for the hosts. Auburn managed just 262 yards of total offense and only 87 rushing yards — at the time, the fewest rushing yards in any game of Malzahn’s tenure as coach. And Auburn’s lone touchdown came with 3:22 remaining, which was too little, too late.
After that road triumph, Clemson’s defense went on to author a stellar season. It ended last season ranked in the top 10 nationally in a plethora of categories, including total defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, interceptions, tackles for loss, sacks and third-down defense.
Though Clemson was solid at every level of the defense last season, it was the line that took center stage. It was a group anchored by Carlson Watkins, who is now in the NFL. All he did in 2016 was notch 10.5 sacks, a team-high and single-season school record for a defensive tackle.
Clemson’s defensive line is still filled to the brim with talent, possibly as much as any in college football. It’s headlined by the dynamic duo of Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. Wilkins led the defense with 13.5 tackles for loss last season. Lawrence was next in line behind Watkins with 6.5 sacks.
Beyond them, the group also boasts ends Clelin Ferrell (six sacks last season) and Austin Bryant, while Scott Pagano and Albert Huggins play on the interior.
And those are just the players who have seen extensive playing time.
It was enough to leave Prince Tega Wanogho thoroughly impressed.
“They’re a great team. Before we came over here, I was watching them on TV,” Wanogho, Auburn’s starting left tackle, told the Opelika-Auburn News after last Saturday’s win. “Their D-line is pretty big and pretty strong. We just need to go out there and play ball.”
Malzahn saw all those same elements on film.
Not that he needed it to remember how disruptive Clemson’s defensive line can be.
“Their defensive front, like I said, I believe it’s one of the top in the country. … It’ll be a big test for our guys up front,” Malzahn said. “We’re not only going to have to run the football, but we’ll have to protect the quarterback. That’ll be a big key to the game.”