The problem came to a head last week at LSU when Auburn allowed six sacks in a 45-10 loss.
Could there be a bigger wakeup call?
“Giving up six sacks is never a positive,” said Auburn senior tackle A.J. Greene, “but the only positive you can take out of it is to look at it and challenge yourself, each and every one on the line, challenge yourself and continue to get better.”
As Auburn (5-3, 3-2 SEC) prepares to play Ole Miss (2-5, 0-4 SEC) Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, protecting the quarterback looms as one of the critical issues for an offense badly in need of a jump start.
The Tigers are averaging 13.2 points per game over their last four games after averaging 35.2 over their first four.
Reluctant to lay the blame entirely on the offensive line, Auburn coach Gene Chizik views pass protection as a multi-faceted issue.
“It’s not always just the offensive line,” he said. “There are a lot of other people — tight ends and running backs — involved in all of that who have got to improve.
But Chizik is quick to acknowledge that it all starts up front.
“It’s not pointing fingers at the offensive line,” Chizik said, “but do they need to improve? Absolutely.”
Injuries have played a significant role in the Tigers’ problems up front. Auburn has had to use five different starting lineups in eight games.
And many players are being used at multiple positions.
For a unit that values continuity above almost all else, it has been a major adjustment.
“We didn’t communicate as well as we have been,” offensive lineman John Sullen said. “Everything is on us. I’m not saying they’re not a great defense, because they are. But most of the mistakes we brought on ourselves.
“There is no frustration. The offense has proven year after year after year that it is a productive offense. We’re not doing what we need to do as players if it’s not producing. We know that, and we’ve taken that to heart, and we’re going to have come back to continue to get better.”
Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes says the best thing the Tigers can do concerning their performance in the LSU game is forget about it and move on.
“We didn’t play very well,” Grimes said.
“I think that’s obvious, in any phase of the game. You don’t run the ball, you give up sacks, can’t move the ball and get first downs consistently. It was for a variety of reasons. It was a collective effort. The offensive line — we certainly didn’t do our part. We’ve really moved forward and focused all of our efforts on this game this week.”