Jack Driscoll could feel the shift, out on the field in the middle of the battle.
The Tigers started to impose their power. Their play-caller pulled them into the right positions. They started to push open holes.
Auburn’s offensive line began to make way against Tulane’s defense in the third quarter, and with a run-heavy scoring drive, the Tigers put the Green Wave away.
Auburn’s challenge now is to start stronger, and faster, in future games as the season’s schedule rolls on.
That much has been apparent in the words of both offensive linemen and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn alike this weekend, as the team moves ahead to its game against Kent State this Saturday at 6 p.m. in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn’s 2-0, and in wins against Oregon and Tulane, the Tigers’ all-senior offensive line has excelled with adjustments in the second halves of both games.
But the SEC opener is now 11 days away, and the Tigers know that one half of strong play on the line isn’t going to cut it against some of Auburn’s opponents.
“In big-time game coming up, with some of the opponents we’ll play, we’ve got to be able to establish the run in the first half,” said Driscoll, Auburn’s senior right tackle, under Jordan-Hare just after the win over Tulane last Saturday.
“We’ve got to get back to the drawing board tomorrow and figure out what we did wrong and what we can improve on.”
They’ve done that, and that’s the goal for this group starting immediately against Kent State — to start imposing a presence right from the first series.
“I think it’s just a matter of getting off to a faster start and I really expect each game that we do a better job of that,” Malzahn said on Sunday. “But, you know, overall, they’ve done some really good things.”
Auburn’s played two quality opponents, Malzahn pointed out. “There’s not very many teams around the country that can say that,” he said. Oregon is touted as one of the country’s top teams, and Tulane has shown signs of rising since its bowl-win season last fall.
Last Saturday against that Green Wave defense, Auburn mustered just 20 rushing yards on 13 carries in the game’s first half. It wasn’t until late in the third, in a 14-6 game, that the offensive line and running back JaTarvious Whitlow reeled together an 11-play, 82-yard scoring drive, on which Whitlow ran the ball nine times including on the 14-yard touchdown run that helped put Auburn up 21-6 and put the game in hand.
That scoring run came on a play out of the Wildcat formation. The Tigers snapped the ball directly to Whitlow, and he charged around to the right as left guard Marquel Harrell and right guard Mike Horton pulled around Driscoll to pave the way for Whitlow at the second level around the right side.
It’s play-calls like that buck sweep, which pull linemen around creatively to block someone other than just the defender in front of them, that can also help Auburn’s offensive line moving forward.
“It really was just about making adjustments that second half,” Horton said on Sunday. “The first half they were scheming us up a little bit, so we just had to go in and make some adjustments.
“We have to rely on them and know they’re going to lead us the right way,” he said of his coaches.
Auburn rushed for only 70 rush yards in the first half against Oregon, and finished with 206. Malzahn said that week that the Tigers made a conscious effort to establish the running game in that third quarter as Auburn fought from behind in that comeback win.
The Tulane game showed more of the same struggles, until the team settled in again.
“We didn’t start out running the ball well,” Driscoll said Saturday. “They gave us some funky looks and they were moving, but we’ve got to put that on ourselves. Second half, we kind of changed it up a little bit, and we got our groove, so that’s really what matters.”