Pugh Focusing On Improvement

Auburn freshman Ryan Pugh talks about his first college start and preparing to play the Florida Gators.

Auburn, Ala.--Many people were surprised to learn on Saturday that Auburn planned to start three true freshmen on the offensive line against New Mexico State, something not normally seen in major college football.

While Lee Ziemba has been the regular starter at right tackle for the Tigers, classmates Ryan Pugh and Chaz Ramsey joined him against the Aggies. The results were good for the trio and the Auburn offense as the Tigers had by far their best offensive day of the season and at just the right time.

While admitting they made their share of mistakes, Pugh says for a first game playing together he thought they all performed pretty well.

"There are a lot of things we've got to improve on," he says. "We did some good things. I thought we played really hard, which is a big thing. That's a good place to start. If you play hard you can win a lot of games. I think it's something we can build on and, hopefully, we can get this thing turned around."

Something that can't be denied is the energy that all three bring to the offense and especially in the running game. On three of Auburn's touchdown runs Saturday night it was one of the freshmen making a key block to spring the running back and many times it was down the field. Pugh says that's just a part of the game they bring and he feels like it's contagious for the rest of the team.

"I think it's something we brought to the table," Pugh says. "The enthusiasm the week of practice as a whole was good. I thought everyone bounced around. There was a lot of yelling and hooting and hollering going on, it was a lot of fun. I think the coaches had as much fun as the players, being out there and seeing the change in tempo."

Seeing his first action of the year, Pugh says he was surprised but not overwhelmed when Coach Hugh Nall came to him last week and told him he was starting at tackle on Saturday. Playing the position in high school, Pugh says he felt fine on the field, but knows he's got a lot of improvement to make before game two.

"It's fine," Pugh says. "I played it in high school, but it's a lot different in college. You have to be a lot quicker and you can't take a slow step out there because you're out on an island. It was fun getting back out there. I've just got to work on getting better.

"I graded out at 87 percent," Pugh says. "That's decent, but it's not good enough. We're in the SEC and you've got to play better than that."

For Pugh and his fellow freshmen up front, the journey to first team status has been a short one. Arriving on campus together in June, they were already friends after striking up relationships with each other during the recruiting process. Because of that, when it came time to find living arrangements things came easy as Pugh and Ziemba decided to live together with Ramsey by himself close by.

When they moved to Auburn, Pugh says one of the first things they did was sit down together and come up with a set of goals for all to strive towards. One of those was to play early, something he says is still hard to believe it came true so quickly.

Ryan Pugh is shown at practice.

"We came down here with the mindset that we wanted to make an impact," Pugh says. "That was at the top of our list when we sat down and made goals together. At the top of our list was we wanted to make an impact on the team this year. True freshmen sometimes don't get the opportunity to do that, but when we sat those goals for ourselves and look at them every day, it's something to keep working hard for and keeps making you get up in the mornings and work hard in practice. I think we all have the chance to keep playing together and that's the reason we have made it this far."

Because they are good friends off the field, Pugh says it helps them work well together on the field. In addition to the freshmen Jason Bosley and Tyronne Green round out Auburn's starting five up front. They quickly built a good working relationship together last week, but Pugh says it was something already established among the freshmen.

"It was excitement really," Pugh says. "Just being able to get out there and play with the guys you love to play with, I think as an offensive line that's something we're able to do now and we're just having fun and playing hard. It makes practices and games a lot more fun when you're winning and when you're making things happen."

This week the Tigers travel to Gainesville to face the fourth-ranked Florida Gators in a huge game for both teams. For Florida a victory would set up perhaps the country's top regular season game this year the next week against LSU in Baton Rouge. For Auburn it's simply about regaining some respect around the country after two early losses. Pugh says no matter the stakes or the atmosphere, this game is simply about the Tigers becoming a better football team.

"They say it's a loud place, but I'm not really worried about where we're playing or who we're playing," Pugh says. "We're worried about getting better as an offense and as a team and just going down there and taking care of business.

"You really can't let the noise affect you," he adds. "It's definitely going to affect you, but you can't let it get inside your head and take you out of your game."

While Nall said on Sunday that he was sticking with his freshmen in the lineup, Pugh says he knows there is a chance that things could change at any time with the return of King Dunlap, Leon Hart and Mike Berry to the rotation after injuries. That could even happen this week, but Pugh says no matter who is playing they have to focus on one simple goal; improvement.

"Whatever Coach Nall decides," Pugh says. "It is up to him. We just have to get better as a team and really focus on getting better as an offensive line. We can't really worry about who we're playing, just about getting better as an offense."

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