Both Ben Nowland and Lorenzo Diamond have been through just about everything you could ask for as football players in their five years on the Plains. Following a win against Ole Miss Saturday in Oxford, both talked about where their team is heading into the last three games of the season.
With the win over the Rebels, the Tigers stay in the hunt for the SEC Western Division title and find themselves just one-half game behind LSU heading into this weekend's games. Following the victory, Nowland said the victory over Ole Miss was a one for his team.
"It's huge," Nowland said. "It's another stepping stone in our goal list on the way to Atlanta. It's a big game. It's always hard to go on the road and play, especially when it's cold out. We started off a little slow, but we got things going. The defense came up with some big plays and gave us some good field position and we were able to turn it into points. That helped us out a lot."
Auburn drives the Rebels off the line as Ronnie Brown scores his first touchdown of the game.
A key part of a rebuilt offensive line that was an area of concern for Auburn heading into the 2002 season, the senior from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., said he likes what he has seen out his group to this point. Mentioning true freshmen Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick as key additions, he said they are having success and that breeds more success. "The O-Line was supposed to be one of our weak points if you talked to anybody, with just the fact that we lost three seniors and a bunch of young kids had to step in," Nowland noted. "We got some good recruits and a couple of good young kids that were able to come in and play."
While Nowland has been a key component of the line, one of the unsung heroes up front has been Diamond. A solid blocker on the end of the line, he threw several key blocks that allowed Ronnie Brown to turn the corner for big gains at Ole Miss. He said that the last running play of the game typified what this group thinks on every run. Needing three yards to maintain possession and ice the game, the offensive line blew the Rebels off the ball allowing Brown to gain nine yards and seal the victory.
"We knew we could get three yards running the ball," Diamond said. "We had been doing it all day and we had to just come up and blow them off the line. That's what the mentality was when we came up there. We told them in the huddle, 'Don't come off the ball like you have to get three yards, come off the ball like you have to get a touchdown.'"
Unfortunately for Diamond, he'll be remembered for something different in Saturday's game. A Mississippi native, he broke wide open down the middle in the first quarter and Jason Campbell delivered a strike. The only problem was Diamond couldn't hold on to the football. While the win soothed the hurt of the dropped pass, he was still thinking about it long after it happened.
Lorenzo Diamond drops a first quarter pass from Jason Campbell.
"Just catch the ball," Diamond said of his thoughts when the ball was in the air. "That's all I was thinking. Just catch the ball first and run later. I put my hands up, but it hit my pads and bounced out of my hands. I wanted to hide my face. I was ready to come off the field."
Luckily for the Tigers he didn't do that. Keeping his nose to the grindstone, he worked and blocked until his number was called again. This time he didn't drop the ball. Facing a third-and-two from the Ole Miss 45-yard line, Coach Bobby Petrino called for the quarterback to fake the ball into the line of scrimmage and hide it behind his back to allow the receivers to get downfield. The play's first option was to go to Devin Aromashoda, who lined up wide, but when he was covered Campbell looked to Diamond and he delivered with a 20-yard reception for a first down. The Tigers scored on the next play to take a 24-17 lead on the way to the win.
"We've been working on it pretty hard in practice and working on his play fakes and hiding the ball well," Diamond said of the play. "He's doing a real good job with it. "If it comes to me just catch it this time," he said of his thoughts when the play was called. "That was basically it. I thought that we had a chance to get a touchdown, but they read the play pretty well and covered Devin up. I slipped out in the flats and was wide open."
With consecutive wins over LSU and Ole Miss, the Tigers are a confident team heading into Saturday's game against Louisiana-Monroe. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. and the game will be offered on Pay-Per-View basis only. While it might seem to be a cakewalk for Auburn, Diamond said this team is taking this game very seriously because the Tigers have a lot of room for improvement.
"We're nowhere near where we need to be," Diamond said. "We're still making too many mistakes. We didn't come out and play well in the first quarter and that's one of the things we strive to do every week."