Auburn's Ground Game

By: AP
By: AP

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - The Auburn Tigers are still trying to get
physical.

The Tigers (4-5) seemed likely to revert back to old-school
football and try to overpower opposing defenses with the running
game after a midseason change in philosophies, but it hasn't
happened. The tailbacks still aren't getting an abundance of
carries and the offensive line hasn't suddenly started pushing
opposing linemen backward and opening holes for them to run
through.

"We're not tough enough right now, running the football,"
tackle Lee Ziemba said. "We're not where we were last year. We
keep striving for that. It isn't the want-to. We want to, we've
just got to get it done, just stop talking about it and just do
it."

Toughness isn't the only issue holding the running game back
leading up to Saturday's game with Tennessee-Martin (7-2).
Tailbacks Ben Tate and Brad Lester have been hampered by injuries,
and Mario Fannin had a recovering shoulder that kept him out of the
backfield early in the season.

Then there was the midseason switch from Tony Franklin's uptempo
spread offense that was scrapped when Tuberville fired the
offensive coordinator.

The running game hasn't taken off since then to support
sophomore quarterback Kodi Burns, with the offensive line having to
switch gears in blocking styles. Burns had the Tigers' first
300-yard passing game since the 2005 season opener against
Mississippi in a 17-7 loss.

Tate, Lester and Fannin combined for 16 carries for 54 yards.
Burns was the leading rusher in the previous two games.

"We've been trying to work back to that mode of just knocking
people off the ball and creating running lanes for the running
backs," guard Tyronne Green said.

Tate is easily the Tigers' leading rusher but he's been slowed
by hamstring problems and has only 18 carries in the past three
games. Without a go-to back, the Tigers have been held below 100
yards on the ground four times in the last six games, and have
managed just four rushing touchdowns during that span.

"We don't have the one guy at running back that we know we can
call his number and they're going to do the perfect thing, like we
have in the past," Tuberville said. "We've got a bunch of guys
out there that we're alternating in trying to find the right
consistency. Mario has probably been the most consistent, along
with Ben Tate.

"The mental things have hurt us in protection. You hate to put
one guy in to do one thing and one guy in to do the other. We've
got to have a complete package out of one running back."

Without that luxury, the Tigers have averaged just 130 yards
rushing despite gaining 321 in the opener against Louisiana-Monroe.

The program that had been shipping running backs like Rudi
Johnson, Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown to the NFL with
regularity had dropped off some last season, though Tate still
flirted with a 1,000-yard season.

"Last year we weren't quite as physical as we needed to be,"
Tuberville said. "We got away from the running game and now we've
gotten back to it. I think that will all work itself out."


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