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November 24, 2012
ANALYSIS: O-line dominates
TUSCALOOSA | For months before the season began, the University of Alabama offensive linemen heard their fill about how good they were supposed to be: the strongest unit on the nation's strongest team. Three of their five being Outland Trophy candidates only served to heighten those expectations.
How well those expectations were met in the Crimson Tide's 11-1 regular season is a matter of some debate.
But the way the Crimson Tide's veteran front capped its career as a group Saturday left no room at all for debate.
In a 49-0 win against Auburn on Saturday, it was dominant in every way.
"I thought they got a hat on a hat. We had a good plan. We went up-tempo to try to avoid having bad plays. Everybody did a good job of executing," UA coach Nick Saban said. "AJ got us in the right play and the offensive line made the right adjustments to get a hat on a hat. We were effective running it, and we had pretty good protection most of the time when we threw it."
Many of Alabama's 267 rushing yards came between the tackles, where center Barrett Jones and guards Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen opened holes consistently.
"I don't think we made many mistakes when we were out there, the first team," Jones said. "We scored every drive, so that's what we want to do. I think we came out and did our job and beat them pretty soundly."
Nowhere was the Crimson Tide's dominance up front more evident than in the matchup between Tigers defensive end Corey Lemonier and Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.
Lemonier entered the game with Auburn's second-highest sack total (5.5) and a team-leading 12 quarterback hurries. On Saturday, Kouandjio made him a nonfactor. The Crimson Tide sophomore pushed Lemonier around when Alabama ran the ball, and contained his pass-rush efforts with little trouble as well.
And he did it without any help from a double team. Tight end Michael Williams took on Lemonier on some plays, but only when Kouandjio's assignment was elsewhere.
As Lemonier's day went, so went the day for the entire Auburn defensive front.
UA running back Eddie Lacy had 111 rushing yards by the half.
Quarterback AJ McCarron finished his day with a clean jersey, attempting 21 passes without a sack.
And when McCarron found Kevin Norwood for a 38-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, the starting offensive line's day was done early.
"We really don't look at the scoreboard, but it showed we put a lot of preparation in," Warmack said. "... It was a pretty good game. We had a good week of practice. What you do in practice shows up in the game."
Even Alabama's second offensive line looked perhaps as cohesive as it has all season, opening holes for backup quarterback Blake Sims' zone-read option plays throughout the second half. It is a unit that can use all the experience it can get with two UA starters on the offensive line graduating, and a third (D.J. Fluker) considered a strong candidate for early NFL Draft declaration.
Tackles Austin Shepherd and Kellen Williams, guards Chad Lindsay and Arie Kouandjio, and center Ryan Kelly helped Sims and reserve running back Kenyan Drake rush for a combined 92 yards.
Walk-on Ben Howell of Gordo finished the game in the offensive backfield with three carries for 5 yards. The coaches had Sims mercifully take a knee at the Auburn 5-yard line on UA's final offensive play.
"We had some explosive plays both ways, and the offensive line contributed to that significantly," Saban added.