Confidence Building For Pugh And Offense

Junior center Ryan Pugh talks about Auburn's offensive effort in the win over Mississippi State.

Auburn, Ala.--When you look at the numbers you can get a little disoriented with what the Auburn Tigers are doing in 2009. Through two games the Tigers have 1,145 yards of total offense with 691 yards coming on the ground. That was punctuated Saturday night with a dominating performance in a 49-24 victory over Mississippi State to improve to 2-0 on the season.

In the win Auburn gained 390 yards on the ground with both Ben Tate (157) and Onterio McCalebb (114) both going over the 100-yard mark for the second consecutive game. Throw in 75 from Mario Fannin and 32 from Kodi Burns, including three rushing touchdowns, and you have a complete ground attack the likes of which hasn't been seen around Auburn in quite a while.

Burns gave all the credit in the postgame to the offensive line and probably for good reason. Much maligned last season and a big question mark coming into the year, Auburn's front five has been dominating at times and the proof is in the pudding. For junior center Ryan Pugh, games like Saturday night are as good as it gets for a lineman.

"It was a lot of fun," Pugh said. "The coaches challenged us all week to make a statement in the run game and to make a statement on offense really. We had to see if we could come back and do it again against a better defense. That wasn't easy to do what we did against Mississippi State. Their defense is really good. Those guys play with tremendous effort. Coach (Gus) Malzahn and the coaching staff just put us in a tremendous position to make some plays up front with the running backs and Chris (Todd) threw the ball well."

One of the big points in the game occurred late in the second quarter. A blocked punt for a touchdown gave Mississippi State its only lead of the game at 17-14 with 4:44 left in the first half, but that's when Auburn's offense answered the bell in a big way.

Getting the ball back on its own 20, Tate raced out for a quick 17-yard gain and followed with runs of six and five yards to move the ball to the 43-yard line. A four-yard rush by McCalebb followed, setting the stage for one of the biggest plays of the game. Running an option play to the left, quarterback Chris Todd pitched to McCalebb and the speedy freshman did the rest with a 48-yard touchdown to put Auburn back in front with 3:08 left in the half.

Auburn's defense answered the bell and allowed Coach Gene Chizik to show some faith in his offense just moments later. After first down play, MSU ran for two yards on first down. A one-yard loss followed with Chizik immediately calling a timeout. Another rush for eight left the Bulldogs one-yard short on third down with Auburn calling for its second timeout with just 1:35 left. A 44-yard punt left the Tigers on their own 22 with just 1:29 left and one timeout.

That situation with a four-point lead might be a time to get to halftime, but not with Chizik and Gus Malzahn. The Tigers came out firing with Todd hitting a big 21-yard pass on third and seven to keep the drive alive. Todd followed with passes of 28 and 20 yards to Adams, the second put the ball on the MSU one-yard line with just 21 seconds remaining.

Calling his final timeout, Chizik put the ball in the hands of Burns and the junior delivered with a dash to the right for a touchdown. Much like Burns, Auburn's offense delivered in the clutch Saturday night at crunch time to end the half with a huge momentum swing.

That's something that Pugh said comes from Chizik all the way down. The confidence in the offense and excitement created by the touchdown is a product of the way Auburn football is played now and Pugh said that's what it's all about.

"That just shows you how much confidence Coach Chizik has," Pugh said. "You can call timeout right there and the offense goes three and out and all of the sudden they've got a short field. It's just great confidence up front as well as the offense in general. We practice those situations and it's paying off for us in the game."

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