Constant Theme

In the SEC, you can always count on one thing - the opponent you play will have a rugged defensive front. It's become the trademark, and the constant, of the nation's best conference. Guess what? Auburn's got one too.

Having played on the offensive line in the SEC and having coached the OL in this conference, Rebel OL Coach Matt Luke gets it.

He knows that there are no breaks for his group.

Every defensive line the Rebels will face presents problems. Every defensive line in the loop has disruptive players.

Auburn is no different.

In fact, most on the Rebel staff feel the Tigers' defensive line is the strength of their whole team.

"Each and every week, we are going to face good defensive lines. Auburn's is good collectively, as good as we've seen," said Luke. "Their defensive ends are special players and they are big and physical on the inside.

"Their defensive line is the most potent part of their team. We have our work cut out for us."

What separates defensive lines in the conference is what each staff tries to do with those players.

Texas A&M, for instance, used a lot of blitz packages, making protection slides and adjustments essential for success.

"Auburn just lines up and plays. They cut those defensive ends loose and let them go. They don't put them in a lot of blitzes. They will run twist some, but basically they just cut them loose," Luke noted. "They have a good scheme, they do a good job and those guys up front play hard, as you would expect."

The Rebel OL starters will remain the same, but one of the main subs - OG Justin Bell - is out with a back injury this week.

"Jared Duke and Corey Gaines knew Justin would be out so they have stepped up their games with their best weeks so far this season," Luke explained. "Duke will backup at left guard and Gaines will back up at right guard. You will see the normal three-man rotation (Pierce Burton, Emmanuel McCray and Patrick Junen) at tackle.

Emmanuel McCray
File Photo

"Rotating Patrick in at right tackle and moving Pierce to left tackle at times has helped keep Emmanuel fresh and healthy. He played his best game last week because Patrick stepped up and played 30 snaps. I think mentally Emmanuel knows he doesn't have to pace himself because he's got someone to relieve him. He knows he can go ahead and play fast."

The Rebel offense is averaging 458.2 yards a game, which is not a shocker in this up-tempo scheme, but what has been a little surprising is that almost half of that (223.8) has been on the ground.

That's a direct result of improved play by Luke's OL.

"I've been pleased with what we have done in the run game," Luke assessed. "Obviously, you are never satisfied. We have to continue to be more physical and things like that, but we have been pretty successful with the inside zone and because that has worked, it has opened up our outside game some.

"With the zone read and the options in our run game, it truly allows you to take what the defense gives you. If the ends are squeezing, we can go outside. If they are wide, we are able to run inside. We just have to continue on that path and get better."

From game one through game six, the improvement up front is noticeable.

"They are in better shape. They have six games of experience under their belts. Guys like Emmanuel and Aaron (Morris) and Pierce have never played much. Getting those snaps has given them more confidence," Matt added. "The tempo we are playing with has also helped us.

"The biggest thing is that defenses can't get lined up and get their fronts and stunts called. We just have to get lined up, get better and keep believing in what we are doing. Anytime you believe in what you are doing, you will work hard to get better. Right now, our guys are buying in and believing in what we are doing."

On Saturday, the Rebels will be lining up for their seventh game in a row without a break. That's a long haul and tough stretch.

"We are starting to see more bumps and bruises, especially with five or six guys getting the majority of the reps. It adds up," Luke closed. "What we have to do is get our minds set to go hard and all-out one more time.

"We have to give it all we've got and then worry about healing next week during the open week."

In the meantime, here comes another rugged DL.

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