Auburn seeking balance, more physical play

The Auburn offense is a bit of an enigma.

The 17th-ranked Tigers have run nearly three times more than

they’ve passed and the offensive line is the most experienced group

on the team. Yet the biggest complaint from coach Gene Chizik is

they aren’t playing physically enough to control the line of

scrimmage going into Saturday night’s game against No. 12 South

Carolina.

”I feel like we need to be playing more physical,” Chizik said

Tuesday. ”I don’t feel like there’s any secret. We’ve had that

discussion over the last two days. I think they know it, we know

it, they have to fix it. If we’re going to win the football game

Saturday, that’s going to be part of the equation that we got that

fixed.”

So far Auburn (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) has managed to

overcome it – barely. Now, they’re facing one of the league’s

sturdiest defenses, which could be even stronger with the expected

return of linebacker Shaq Wilson from injury.

The Tigers were pushed around in the first half of the Clemson

game in falling behind 17-0 and faltered twice on third-and-2 with

a 4-yard loss and an incomplete pass. In the fourth quarter, Auburn

drove to midfield in a tie game but quarterback Cameron Newton was

tackled for a 2-yard loss on yet another third-and-2.

The Tigers managed to win in overtime, but left frustrated.

”We can’t continuously put ourselves in the situation we have

been,” Newton said. ”Sooner or later, our luck will run

out.”

An offensive line with four seniors and 121 combined starts

takes Chizik’s message on getting more physical a little

personally.

”We accept the challenge,” guard Byron Isom said. ”We’re very

focused on that this week. It’s really a challenge when he puts it

on you. You just have to respond. It kind of hurts a little bit,

but you can’t get down on yourself. We’re definitely going to

respond to that.”

Do Chizik’s comments bother left tackle Lee Ziemba? Nope.

”I’ve seen the same film he has,” Ziemba said. ”We definitely

need to be more physical up front to win ballgames. That’s showed

up big time.”

The Tigers have got a tough opponent to take on in that regard.

South Carolina (3-0, 1-0) ranks in the Top 10 nationally in both

scoring defense and run defense, allowing 12.7 points and 59.7

rushing yards a game.

The Gamecocks haven’t allowed a first-half touchdown yet.

Plus, Wilson is expected to play for the first time this season

following a hamstring injury early in preseason camp. He led the

Gamecocks in tackling last year. Fellow linebacker Rodney Paulk

said his return would ”be real big” ahead of facing Newton &

Co.

”He is the quarterback of the defense and to have him back

would be a major extra point to have for us,” Paulk said. ”If you

talk with him, he’s feeling real good right now and expects to play

this weekend.”

The statistics don’t necessarily indicate what the fuss is all

about for Auburn. Yes, the Tigers lead the SEC and rank 12th

nationally in rushing. And they’re tops in the nation in pass

efficiency, thanks largely to a nation’s best 11.8-yard average per

completion and a touchdown on nearly one of every seven throws.

The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton has produced some big plays in

the passing game, but he has run 50 times and passed only 47. None

of Auburn’s tailbacks have even carried 40.

”We’re preparing for an even match, run and pass,” South

Carolina safety DeVonte Holloman said.

But Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier would like to see Newton have

to fling the ball around more than he has.

”We have to stop the run first and get him throwing the ball,”

Spurrier said. ”We also have to hold onto him. He can shake an arm

or a hand if someone is trying to tackle him like that. You have to

get a good grasp on a quarterback that’s big and strong and

elusive.”

In the passing game, Newton hasn’t had great protection. He has

been sacked five times and forced to run on many other occasions.

Not many targets have stepped up consistently. Only Darvin Adams

has had multiple receptions in more than one game, and he’s

responsible for a third of the wide receivers’ catches.

”He’s made some really good throws into some tight areas,”

Chizik said. ”We’ve got to give him time to throw and we’ve got to

get some more receivers open. That’s the gameplan.”