AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football allowed a record 11 sacks in a 14-6 loss to Clemson in Week 2. And while offensive line coach Herb Hand is changing his vantage point on game days, Gus Malzahn says his starting lineup probably won’t.
Malzahn said Tuesday he didn’t anticipate any changes to the Tigers’ starting offensive line right now. The Auburn coach didn’t completely rule it out, but he defended the first-string front.
“There probably won’t be changes,” Malzahn said. “But we’ll see how practice goes. But we believe in our players, I’ll tell you that. They were put in some tough situations at times. I’ve got to do a better job, our coaches have got to do a better job of putting our players in better situations.”
Auburn’s offensive line was responsible for a majority of Clemson’s 11 sacks last Saturday night. Some came down to starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham holding onto the ball too long or the Tigers’ receivers not getting enough separation on slow-developing pass plays.
Sophomore left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho, who made his second career start at Clemson, struggled in pass protection throughout the night. Senior right guard Braden Smith was responsible for a red-zone sack early in the second quarter, and senior right tackle Darius James had several losses up front as well.
Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said Sunday night “there’s competition all the way around” for the Tigers and cited “growing pains” as a reason for some of the struggles against Clemson.
“Obviously, we’re making the decision that’s best based on practice and based on our preparation,” Lindsey said. “You start looking at everything and where our best players need to be and so forth, and I think we’ll continue to do that.”
Auburn settled on a starting lineup of Wanogho, sophomore left guard Mike Horton, senior center Austin Golson, Smith and James late in fall camp. The Tigers also worked graduate transfers Wilson Bell and Casey Dunn with the first team last month, along with sophomore guard Marquel Harrell.
Malzahn said Tuesday any one of those three needed to “earn it in practice” before they could crack the starting lineup.
For now, as Auburn heads into a homecoming matchup this weekend against FCS program Mercer, Malzahn says he expects to stick with the current starting five.
“We believe in those guys,” Malzahn said. “They are going to improve. You’re going to see it every week. I’m not ready to sit here right now and say there’s going to be change. We’ll see how practice goes. We’ll challenge those guys and, like I said, they were put in some tough situations against a very good defensive line.”