NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Pinning Auburn’s incredible turnaround this season on just one player or one facet of the team would be unfair.
But for all the talk about this being a team of destiny, it’s also a team that has reminded us yet again what the essence of football truly is, particularly on the offensive side.
“You can have all the pretty boys you want,” Auburn center Reese Dismukes said Thursday. “But whoever wins the line of scrimmage all day is usually going to be who wins the football game.”
Dismukes is the anchor of an Auburn offensive line that has owned the line of scrimmage more times than not this season. All the evidence you need is the Tigers’ rushing average of 335.7 yards per game, not to mention their 30 runs of 25 yards or more -- both tops among FBS teams this season.
They enter Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship showdown with Florida State having rushed for 841 yards in their last two games. They shredded Missouri for 545 yards in the SEC championship game and lit up Alabama for 296 rushing yards the week before that.
As if it really mattered, Alabama and Missouri were the top two run defenses in the SEC at the time.
“One thing that impresses me about Auburn is that they’re going to do what they do and they’re going to do it well, and they’re going to be consistent for 60 minutes and force you to be consistent,” Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said.
“Their O-line is pretty good. I see a lot of those guys playing on Sunday, and we have a lot of guys in our defensive front who are going to be playing on Sunday.
“It’s the clash of the beasts.”
Florida State was supposed to be good up front this season on defense, so that’s not a surprise.
But to start this season, good luck in finding anybody, at least anybody outside the Auburn football complex, who thought the Tigers would rank among the upper echelon of offensive lines in the SEC.
A year ago, Auburn finished ninth in the SEC in rushing at 148.4 yards per game. The Tigers were shut out in their last two SEC contests against Georgia and Alabama and didn’t do much of anything consistently on offense.
Obviously, Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, system, with the zone-read element that quarterback Nick Marshall has added along with all the different formations and motion, has spiced up things.
But it still gets back to being physical and winning one-on-one battles up front, and the Tigers have done that as well as anybody this season.
“People say that what we do is trickery and stuff like that,” said Auburn H-back Jay Prosch, who’s one of the fiercest run blockers in college football. “I don’t understand that at all. If you simply turn on the film, it’s obviously not trickery. We run the ball hard and have an offensive line that’s going to knock you off the ball a few yards and are going to instantly gain a few yards.
“Coach Malzahn is a very smart coach with his play-calling and figuring out what defenses people are in and what plays you need to run. He makes great decisions, and people mistake that for trickery.”
Prosch is a 260-pound extended version of the Auburn offensive line who’s typically clearing the way for some of the Tigers’ biggest plays.
One of his biggest fans is Florida State offensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
“He’s the guy who makes them go,” Pruitt said of Prosch, who started his career at Illinois. “He’s an outstanding football player and never takes a play off. There are very few times that he’s not knocking somebody back.”
Running back Tre Mason, one of two Auburn players to rush for more than 1,000 yards this season along with Marshall, wouldn’t trade his “hogs” up front for anybody else in the country.
“They make tremendous holes for us, which makes our job easier,” Mason said. “We work hard together as a team. Once they start clicking, that’s when everyone starts clicking.
“They’re the heartbeat of the offense.”