Fifth in the country in rushing, averaging 315.4 per game, the Tigers have focused on winning the line of scrimmage since the new coaching staff arrived and that is now paying dividends.
At the center of the attack is junior Reese Dismukes. Playing All-SEC caliber football, the junior center's turnaround on and off the field mirrors that of the program and both are great to see. Healthy now after playing through multiple injuries last fall, he is performing at a high level.
Perhaps the biggest thing that Auburn's success on the ground has brought to the Tigers is the pace that Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee want. Seventh in the nation with 118 rushing first downs, Auburn's offense is beginning to take the shape that fans saw in 2009 and 2010 and hoped to see when the former offensive coordinator made the move back to the Plains as head coach.
Let's Get Physical
This week will be a physical challenge for the Tigers with Arkansas and Bret Bielema wanting to play "old school American football" as the highly opinionated coach mentioned during the preseason. That is going to mean a challenge between the tackles for an Auburn defense that has improved in most areas by leaps and bounds since last season. All is not perfect, however, for defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's boys. Even though the Tigers are allowing just 138.5 yards per game on the ground, both Mississippi State and LSU topped the 200-yard mark and those are the two most physical offenses Auburn has seen to this point.
Now the Tigers will face an Arkansas offense averaging 208.9 rushing yards per game anchored by big center Travis Swanson in the middle and featuring a pair of talented tailbacks. A freshman standout, Alex Collins has 797 yards on 141 carries. Jonathan Williams has added 612 yards on 100 carries. That total is half of the Razorbacks offensive production this season.
This is as in-your-face as it's going to get for the Auburn defense this season. Wanting to run the football and shorten the game, with two weeks to prepare for this game Arkansas is going to challenge the Tigers and the visitors better be ready on Saturday evening in Fayetteville.
Playing Johnson A Wise Move
When Auburn decided to play true freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson against Western Carolina and end his redshirt it was a decision I was all in favor of that move. Now with quarterback Nick Marshall dinged up again, this time with a sore shoulder suffered in the win over Florida Atlantic, I'm 100 percent positive playing the talented freshman was the right move.
With the Tigers in the hunt for a possible SEC Championship Game berth, who knows when Johnson may be needed again? It could be this week when Auburn travels to Arkansas. The good news is if Marshall is hurt again Auburn won't be left wondering what if?
Without question Sammie Coates has been one of the most impressive players for the Tigers this season. Already with 10 catches of more 30 yards in eight games, Coates is starting to show the potential we saw from him when he was a multi-sport star at Leroy HIgh. Leading the nation in yards per catch at 25.52, he has 21 receptions for 536 yards and four touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore.
Always a talented player, Coates first showed Inside The Auburn Tigers his potential at a Scout.com combine following his sophomore season. The next summer he dominated at an Auburn summer camp to earn a scholarship offer from the Tigers.
It wasn't until seeing him in game action as a high school senior that I fully understood how special the speedy receiver could be. Comparing him to A.J. Green because of his physical ability, Coates has already shown the knack for beating a defense deep. If he can continue to develop the fundamentals the talented sophomore has a chance to leave Auburn as one of the top receivers in school history.
1983 Team Worthy of Respect
While the 1981 team put the building blocks in place for the success that Coach Pat Dye would have at Auburn, when I think about the 1980s a team that really stands out is the 1983 SEC champions. They were honored on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium and it brought back the memories of watching the Tigers during my youth.
Playing one of the toughest schedules possible in college football, the Tigers got precision quarterback play from Randy Campbell and the dynamic duo of Bo Jackson and Lionel "Little Train" James combined to give Tigers one of the exciting running back duos in Auburn history.
The play of Tommie Agee on that team was sometimes overlooked, and it wasn't just his blocking from the fullback position in the wishbone offense. His dominating performance against Maryland on Homecoming that season will always stand out to me as he ran over, around and through the Terrapins for 219 yards as the Tigers took down Boomer Esiason's team 35-23.