A senior-dominated group clears the way a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and a thousand-yard running back, but Auburn’s 2010 national championship was all Cam Newton, in the eyes of many.
A much-less-experienced group olés for an embarrassing eight sacks in a loss to Arkansas, and suddenly ESPN analyst Tom Luginbill tells two radio shows heard around this state that it doesn’t matter who plays quarterback for ailing Auburn.
Oh, and Auburn won’t win a conference game.
Luginbill, who was at the Auburn-Arkansas game, listed a lack of chemistry and leadership among his reasons, but fecklessness up front led his logic.
It’s hard to argue after an eight-sack meltdown, spread among two quarterbacks, and Auburn’s coaching staff isn’t trying to argue the point this week.
A bad offensive line makes it hard for an offense to do much of anything, and, well, Auburn’s offense can’t do much of anything this season.
Here’s where the excuse comes in, and we’ve heard it so many times. Auburn is very young up front.
Indeed, the starting five for the Arkansas game featured a true freshman Patrick Miller at right tackle, redshirt freshman Greg Robinson at left tackle, sophomore Chris Slade at right guard and sophomore center Reese Dismukes, along with senior left guard John Sullen.
Yup, that’s a bunch of pups, though Dismukes is a second-year starter.
Young offensive linemen don’t have the mental part of the game down, for sure. They’re not quite there physically against SEC defensive linemen.
Never mind those occasions when a young quarterback holds the ball too long.
Never mind that Auburn lacks a physical running back, without the not-so-dearly-departed Michael Dyer.
Never mind a receiving corps that seems all too willing to let Emory Blake do all the work, a coordinator and system change and any number of problems one could list with Auburn’s offense.
Never mind any of this, with a young offensive line. Nothing else matters, and one can just forget fielding even a competent-looking team, let alone in the SEC.
Geez, was 2007 really that long ago?
Has it been so long since true freshmen Lee Ziemba, Chaz Ramsey and Ryan Pugh made a combined 29 starts for Auburn?
Ziemba started all 13 games, Ramsey 10 and Pugh six.
That Auburn team was no millennial offensive force. The Tigers finished that season 53rd in rushing offense, 103rd in passing offense, 97th in total offense and 84th in scoring offense.
Then-head coach Tommy Tuberville changed offensive coordinators between victories in the Iron Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Then again, Auburn team was an upper-half SEC team, finishing 9-4 overall and 5-3 in the league. The current Auburn team would have to win the rest of its league games to finish 5-3.
That 2007 Auburn team finished tied for 51st in the country in sacks allowed, but that averaged out to 1.92 a game. The current team is tied for 110th at 3.40 sacks a game.
Back in 2007, those young offensive linemen were seen as something good about Auburn’s offense. Ziemba, Ramsey and Pugh all made the coaches’ All-SEC freshman team, and Ziemba was a first-team freshman All-American, according to The Sporting News.
They were all top recruits. Most notably, Pugh was ESPN.com’s No. 1 center prospect. Ziemba was a USA Today All-American and Rivals’ No. 34 overall prospect.
Playing as freshmen, alongside juniors Jason Bosley and Tyronne Green, they performed like their recruiting credentials would suggest.
The current young linemen came with lots of hype, too. Rivals rated all but Slade as four-star prospects. Miller was the No. 24 tackle, Robinson the No. 2 guard and Dismukes the No. 1 center.
Avery Young, who started Auburn’s first three games but lost his job to Miller, was a four-star prospect and the No. 9 tackle.
Young, Dismukes and Robinson all ranked among Rivals’ top 100 overall prospects, between Nos. 74 and 90.
Put bluntly, they’re not playing like their recruiting credentials would suggest. Miller, especially, got embarrassed against Arkansas, which came into the Auburn game with seven sacks and left Jordan-Hare with 15 on the season.
It would help them to have a veteran quarterback like the 2007 bunch had. Brandon Cox wasn’t flashy, but he was a good decision-maker. He was also a third-year starter under the same coordinator and system.
Having a good, physical running back line Ben Tate around would help, too, especially now that Auburn has turned away from the spread offense and back to a pro-style system.
But it’s hard to miss the five-year comparison of Auburn’s young offensive linemen. The 2007 bunch played like promising college players. The 2012 crew looks straight out of high school.
They seem underdeveloped and — whether because of coaching, problems at too many other positions on the offense or both — unmasked.
It’s also hard to avoid the Football 101 truth that Auburn won’t get much better at other positions until the line gets better, so guys like Luginbill might just have a point.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.