AUBURN — In some ways, last week was a difficult one for Nick Brahms. He counts Kaleb Kim among his best friends. And on Wednesday, the sophomore found out that he would replacing the senior at center on Auburn’s starting offensive line.
But Brahms knew he couldn’t dwell on that. “It’s like next guy up,” he said. “You can’t miss a beat. I have to be the same as Kaleb, basically, with the calls and everything like that, making sure everything is on the same page, as far as that goes.”
The sophomore did that in Auburn’s 20-14 win over Ole Miss.
“He did pretty good,” senior left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho said. “He’s real confident, and that is all we need as a unit.”
It seemed Auburn needed to make a change at center after the previous week’s 23-20 loss at LSU. The offensive line played maybe its worst game of the season that day in Baton Rouge. It committed five false starts in the noise of Death Valley. Take out runs of 41 and 70 yards from freshman running back D.J. Williams, and its other 27 carries averaged a paltry 2.6 yards. Quarterback Bo Nix was sacked three times.
Kim, who started the first eight games of the season, had two bad shotgun snaps in that game — one that led to an 11-yard loss and intentional grounding, and another straight over the head of Nix that the quarterback had to dive on for a loss of 20. Brahms replaced him on the offense’s next drive.
Head coach Gus Malzahn announced afterwards that there would be an open competition for the job leading up to Saturday’s home date with the Rebels. Brahms said he and Kim split the first-team reps during Tuesday’s practice. On Wednesday, he got all of them.
“I just knew my time, you know — it was coming,” Brahms said. “I was one play away. I just tried to be the best player I could be, keep improving every week. I looked at it that way, in a positive way.”
Auburn’s offensive line performed better against Ole Miss. It did not commit any penalties, pre-snap or otherwise. The Tigers averaged 3.8 yards on 45 carries in the run game against a stout Rebels rush defense that entered ranked 35th nationally holding teams to 3.7 yards per attempt. Nix was sacked only once.
“I think the offensive line played well,” Brahms said. “We’ll have to go see film and see what coach (J.B.) Grimes and coach Malzahn say about that, but I felt like we did a super job tonight.”
Most importantly for Malzahn, all of Brahms’ snaps were consistent and on-target.
“We did great,” Nix said. “We had great quarterback-center exchanges. We didn’t really have any problems there. He plays a big role in our offense and he does a good job.”
The start was Brahms’ first this season, but not the first of his young career. He started five games for an injured Kim during the middle part of last season. That helped him Saturday, when he was more comfortable trying to identify what the defense was doing across the line of scrimmage.
“It’s huge,” he said. “Some guys, they’re probably nervous, their first game. I started a little bit last year, and I had a little bit of experience under my belt. That helped a lot. It kind of kept the nerves down and all that stuff.”
That will be crucial for the rest of the season, assuming Brahms keeps the starting job — the defenses of Georgia and Alabama will provide an even sterner test up front than Ole Miss did. It will be crucial looking toward next season, where Brahms will likely be looked to as a building block for an offensive line that will be replacing regular starters Wanogho, Kim, Marquel Harrell, Mike Horton and Jack Driscoll, as well as top backup Bailey Sharp.
He made the most of his opportunity Saturday.
“It was a lot of fun,” Brahms said. “I love being out there with the guys. I feel like we have a lot of chemistry, just from playing last year and stuff. I feel like everybody was on the same page.”