Isom, Pugh, Ziemba, and the Rest of the OLine Weren't so Great in 08

chris culverhouseContributor IAugust 13, 2010

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 1: Offensive lineman Lee Ziemba #73 of the Auburn Tigers watches play against the Northwestern Wildcats in the Outback Bowl January 1, 2010 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

With all of this talk about Gene Chizik, Trooper Taylor, Curtis Luper, Ted Roof, and the other coaches of the Auburn Football team this year, there is one who has really gone under the radar.

Of course, with the part of the team he coaches, is that really surprising? I mean, their entire job is to stay out of the limelight. If the cameras focus in on them, they’re probably doing something wrong.

They get lost in the shuffle when they’re doing well, but once they’re off their game, you can bet everybody is aware of their mistakes. Have you figured out who I’m talking about yet? I imagine you’ve got an idea by now: Coach Jeff Grimes – Auburn’s offensive line coach.

First of all, Grimes has done a solid job with his bunch. You hear all about Gus Malzhan’s offensive machine. That’s not undeserved, but without Grimes getting his boys in gear all, of Malzhan’s brilliance is for naught.

Without Coach Grimes getting it right, the rest of the stars won’t get anything done. It is an accepted fact among the Tiger faithful, that Auburn will have a veteran and tough senior led offensive line.

In this way, Grimes has sort of found himself in a tough situation. Not to say he hasn’t enjoyed complete support from the Auburn family, that’s not the case at all. For now, he’s just going without much notice, which means he’s doing a good job.

A few offensive false starts from someone other than Ziemba though, and you’ll hear folks start chirping about the line in a hurry.

Of all the problems facing the 2009 squad, after the horrendous meltdown in 2008, none was worse than the offensive line. All of us can remember the frustration, the angst, and the downright pain we felt when we saw the line stop and look to the sidelines in utter confusion.

It didn’t take a football genius to observe the separation of the coaches, and the lines that were being drawn, which destroyed any sort of teamwork the Tigers might have had that year.

Generally, one starts with the running game as a solid measurement of how well the offensive line fared throughout a season. In 2008, Auburn’s leading rusher was of course Ben Tate who amassed 664 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry.

Not too bad if you have another back sharing the load but the next closest rusher was actually Kodi Burns, scrambling for his life, who gathered 411 yards and also averaged 4.2 yards per carry. That means that Auburn, of all schools, witnessed its top two runners combine for only 1075 yards for an entire season.

That’s not exactly par for the course for a team that many in the media have deemed “Running Back U.” In 2009, Ben Tate alone ran wild on defenses for 1362 yards. That’s nearly a 300 yard turnabout by one tailback.

In fact, Auburn’s second running back was close to Ben Tate in 2008 with Onterio McCalebb scattering around for 565 yards. I will be the first to admit stats can be misleading, but I think numbers like these are hard to skew and work the way you want.

Chris Todd was Auburn’s worst rusher with -63 yards in 2008. He did even worse in 2009 with -116 yards. His mobility was a bit limited. I remember thinking he must have on some sort of new cement shoes.

For argument’s sake, I’m going to give Gus Malzhan most of the credit in regards to Auburn’s new air attack. Still, I have to contend that the incredible turnaround has something to do with the offensive line offering at least solid protection of the slow footed Todd.

The abysmal 2008 air game only managed 1985 yards of passing total, with most of that gained by Kodi Burns followed closely by Chris Todd.

In 2009 the air attack became quite lethal again with Chris Todd throwing for 2612 yards. I give lots of credit to Malzhan, but his success is not mutually exclusive from the improvement Grimes got out of his unit.

Now, if you want to see things on an individual level I’ve got you covered, for that matter, so does Coach Grimes.

Byron Isom is a solid anchor for the Tigers and we should expect consistent physicality from this beast. In 2008, he was arguably one of Auburn’s better linemen with a 90% overall performance against the Razorbacks. He didn’t slow down last year either, with 50 knockdown blocks and starting 11 of 12 games showing improved strength and conditioning.

Ryan Pugh the forgotten engine that could wasn’t bad in 08, but he was even better last season. Both years saw Pugh start in every game of the season. Pugh went from solid in 08 to downright dominate in 09 causing him to be on the Second All SEC team in 2009. He led the trench warriors with 70 knockdown blocks last year. He didn’t allow one sack in the first two games of the year, even though the Tigers threw the ball 51 times.

Lee Ziemba was equally dominate with 67 knockdown blocks in 2009. In the high scoring affair against West Virginia, the hulk of a giant had 9 knockdowns through a torrential down poor.
Auburn fans stood strong and supported their team throughout the storm. Wow, that was my favorite victory last year.
Not to be forgotten, the loved but graduated Andrew McCain was also part of the 2009 offensive line that yielded only 21 sacks out of 364 pass attempts. When you think about the huge and fast defensive linemen that run rampant in the SEC, an 83% success rate in pass protection is not bad at all.

In addition, he was part of the offense that actually gained 332 against the tough defense of the Crimson Tide. Grimes also had his boys ready for their New Years’ day affair with 420 total offensive yards against Northwestern.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Grimes is a very good offensive line coach. Along with the improvement his players have shown, he has also proved to be a very good recruiter. I think you’ll see Auburn’s offensive line be good for years to come.

I realize that next year they’ll be hurting from losing four starters. Still, I think they’re going to be a lot better than what most predict. I guess we’ll have to wait and see but here’s to you Coach Grimes, you aren’t unnoticed.




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