AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s offensive line lacked game experience heading into its home opener against No. 2 Clemson last Saturday. And it showed.
The home Tigers totaled just 87 rushing yards (averaging 2.1 yards per attempt) and converted three of seventeen third downs, losing by a final score of 19-6.
Yet as disappointing as the performance was, it was somewhat understood by the Auburn coaching staff.
Malzahn hired Herb Hand, who he coached with at Tulsa in 2007 and 2008, in January and several players switched positions during the offseason. Though the line was mostly set early in preseason camp, it was the first time the group had to make changes in a game.
“We made some mistakes early, especially in the first half,” Malzahn said. “Clemson did some things that are a little bit different than we thought, so there was a little bit of adjustment.”
Another key factor was center Xavier Dampeer, who made his first college start after missing most of last season with a broken jaw.
“You know he did fine,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “He had probably two really bad plays, but overall, considering who he was going against and all the stuff they were doing – a bunch of different looks and putting the guy right over him a lot — he held his own. So that’s a positive and then you just have to continue to take steps week after week.”
While the line — and the offense as a whole — struggled, the Auburn coaching staff still managed to take positives from the loss.
“They got better in the second half,” Malzahn said. “It was good for that unit to have a game under their belt. I really think that they will improve from week one to week two.”
Improvement and finding an identity quickly will be two key for the Tigers moving forward.
“We did take a couple sacks. We had two breakdowns. But in both cases, I think the quarterback could’ve gotten rid of the ball and saved us. So there’s plenty of areas for everybody to improve, but they did some good things. I think we have a good idea now of what we have, what guys can do. So we’ve been just really focusing on a lot of times you make a lot of improvements from game one to game two. There’s no question we need to do that.”