AUBURN, Ala. — Let’s lay out the negatives.
Against Texas A&M, Auburn allowed 4 sacks to Myles Garrett & Co. So far this season, the Tigers are responsible for 32 plays of negative yards — the most in FBS. The offense hasn’t been able to get much going offensively versus two Top 25 teams.
But that hasn’t changed offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s or coach Gus Malzahn’s opinion of the offensive line.
“I know when you have negative plays, the natural inclination is to get upset with the O-line, but there were still some productive things,” Lashlee said Wednesday. “We need to play better everywhere, I think that’s obvious, but right now I feel good about those guys.”
Lashlee pointed to three of the four sacks and said they weren’t the fault of the offensive line.
On one, Lashlee blamed play-calling, a bootleg that left Sean White with “no chance.” The other one was the opening play of the game that Lashlee claimed, again, that “no one had a chance.” The third was a play in which White held the ball too long, Lashlee said.
“I really think, to be honest with you, our offensive line, particularly our tackles, did a decent job last week in pass protection,” Lashlee said. “That was a concern going into the game, for sure, just as a matchup standpoint. So, I thought they did a good job holding their own.”
Coming into the season, the offensive line of Austin Golson, Alex Kozan, Xavier Dampeer, Braden Smith and Robert Leff (left tackle to right tackle) was pitched to be one of the most steady units on the team.
It’s hard to know where the Auburn offensive struggles stem. Some will point to the quarterbacking. Others will suggest it’s coaching. But the shaky showing of the offensive line — albeit against two stout front-sevens — has been noticeable.
For now, however, there is no intention of switching up the rotation up front. If they do, it’s a decision that will remain “in house,” Lashlee said.
“I thought our offensive line did a solid job,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got to do a better job of making adjustments quicker. So, it looked like the offensive line wasn’t doing their job, and really it was a coaching adjustment that should’ve been made earlier.”
If it was the challenge of Texas A&M — and to a lesser extent Clemson — it will only be compounded upon against LSU. The challenge of Arden Key comes to town Saturday, with an LSU defense that offers quirks under new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
No matter how coaches perceive the offensive line, they understand the imminent need to eliminate negative plays.
“That’s really the No. 1 focus from the offensive staff standpoint is the negative plays,” Malzahn said. “Getting behind the chains. First game there was a few of that same-type situations. But our offensive line, just looking at it from Saturday, we’re improving. We’re going to have to play well this week, but I’m not going to blame on the offensive line.”