Auburn's success starts with the 'hogs'

AUBURN, Ala. -- Don’t look now but Auburn leads the SEC in rushing. The Tigers are averaging 287 yards per game on the ground, which ranks seventh nationally.

Credit the trio of running backs -- Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Credit quarterback Nick Marshall, who led the team with 140 yards rushing against Ole Miss. And credit the offensive scheme implemented by first-year head coach Gus Malzahn.

But what about the offensive line?

“We get pretty good credit within the program,” center Reese Dismukes said. “None of us are [worried] about awards and all that stuff. That's not really a big deal with us. We're hogs and that's what we do. Without us, the [skill players] couldn't do anything.”

Dismukes is likely the only name you’ve heard of on the offensive line. He was a second team preseason All-SEC selection and was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list before the season. But he’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not just about him.

“I think we've got five guys that are 100-percent bought in and committed to do the right thing all the time,” Dismukes said. “We're really starting to gel here. We've been running the ball well and protecting the ball well, too. We're playing really good right now, and we just need to keep getting better each week.”

From left to right, it goes Greg Robinson, Alex Kozan, Dismukes, Chad Slade and Patrick Miller. On Saturday, Avery Young got the start in place of Miller at right tackle because of an off-the-field issue. It was the first change to the starting five all season.

Still, this is a unit that is not made up of five-star recruits or potential first-round draft picks, but they have been as productive as any line in the SEC. In addition to leading the conference in rushing, they’re also tops in fewest sacks allowed. The Tigers have given up just four sacks through the first six games after allowing a league-worst 37 in 2012.

"I look at it as we're just maturing,” Robinson said. “Last year, we gave up sacks, but things are different [now]. I think the offense has a big toll on that and who's in the backfield, also."

So who is the man behind the success of the ‘hogs’ up front? Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes. He brought more than 30 years of coaching experience with him when he followed Malzahn from Arkansas State to Auburn.

“I know this -- J.B. Grimes is as good a fundamental coach as there is,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “He did wonders with the offensive line at Arkansas State last year. We led that league in rushing, and I think we were towards the top in fewest sacks allowed. He's done a really good with these guys.”

The players have responded well to the veteran offensive line coach, too.

“There's never a dull moment [with Grimes],” Dismukes said. “He's an old-school guy, and I like that.”

This Saturday, Auburn visits Texas A&M for a top-25 showdown in College Station. Everyone is already talking about the quarterbacks and the skill-position players, but it starts up front at the line of scrimmage.

“It’s real important,” Lashlee said. “You’re going on the road in a hostile environment in a game where we need to be able to run the football. That’s not different than every week in our league. We have leaned on them since day one.”

Now it’s up to the Auburn offensive line to deliver yet again.