Auburn ranked third

By Brad Bacon

AUBURN, Ala. (UTC/AP) — It was the ultimate call-out for an offensive lineman.

No. 3 Auburn coach Gene Chizik told his most experienced group three weeks into the season they weren’t being physical enough. He hasn’t had to repeat that message.

The Tigers’ offensive line has bullied opposing defenses ever since, helping spearhead one of the nation’s top rushing attacks and string together 300-yard games against Southeastern Conference defenses.

“It was one of those things where we were being physical, but it was just he wasn’t seeing enough of it,” guard Mike Berry said. “He knew we had the potential to be one of the best offensive lines out there. He just called us out that we had the potential to be even greater. We stepped up to the challenge and put it on our backs.”

The Tigers (9-0, 6-0 SEC) are averaging 352 yards rushing with 18 touchdowns on the ground over their last five games against league teams going into Saturday’s game with Chattanooga. The lowest output: 311 yards at Kentucky.

The highest: 440 against LSU, which has the SEC’s top defense. The Tigers are running for 307.7 yards a game and no SEC team has averaged 300-plus since the 1985 Auburn team led by Bo Jackson.

Consider Chizik pleased.

“I don’t think there’s any question in my mind: everything has started with the offensive line playing much better than they did earlier in the year,” he said. “That’s what makes it go.”

It’s not just lip service paid to the guys who do the dirty work but get little of the attention, either. Auburn has four senior starters on the offensive line with a collective 145 career starts.

And the Tigers kept up the success against Mississippi when Newton mostly handed off to tailbacks Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb instead of trying to break free for his own yards. Dyer wound up with 180 yards and McCalebb had 99.

“The last three or four weeks, it’s been quarterback runs,” Chizik said. “Well, they took away the quarterback runs and now it became a tailback running game. I think the stabilizing force in there is not necessarily the quarterbacks or the tailbacks. It’s got to go back to the offensive line. I think it all starts with the offensive line.

“It’s been a great thing to watch the improvement of those guys over the last month.”

Chizik’s next talk to the linemen came in a meeting after the LSU game, but this time he came in praise. And Ziemba said that meant a lot because “he doesn’t toss around compliments very often.”

“We like to be appreciated for what we do,” Ziemba said. “Every day I turn on ESPN and see Cam making a huge run or throwing the football well, or somebody else doing some good things, that’s appreciation in itself.”

Besides, he can borrow one of coach Jeff Grimes’ lines: “Little guys follow the big guys.”

The line’s only open spot entering the season was right tackle. A.J. Greene won the job but was injured against Clemson in Game 3, and junior college transfer Brandon Mosley has started since then.

The 6-foot-8, 319-pound Ziemba assured that the line would be one of the team’s strengths when he bypassed the NFL draft to return for his senior season.

But many of Auburn’s best runs have come behind center Ryan Pugh and guards Berry and Byron Isom, who are often called upon to do their version of a sprint downfield to take on a linebacker.

“It’s one of those things you’ve got to get on your horse,” Berry said. “Pulling 300 around isn’t an easy task. And you know (offensive coordinator Gus) Malzahn isn’t afraid to run the same play again. So you’ve got to be conditioned when your number is called.”

Defensive tackle Zach Clayton enjoys watching it happen.

“It’s always fun to see Mike Berry just pull around and cream somebody,” Clayton said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Tebow and Mullen meet as enemies

JACKSON, Miss. (AP/The Loop) — It used to be Dan Mullen’s job to build Tim Tebow up. Now, the Mississippi State coach’s task is to tear down the Florida quarterback.

Such is life in major college football when good friends don different team colors.

“We were close,” Tebow said. “I don’t think it was necessarily that tough (losing him). It was because we missed him, we wanted him here. But at the same time, I knew that he wanted a head coaching job. He wanted that next goal, that next task, that next thing that he could go out there and accomplish, and that was being a head coach.”

With Mullen as his offensive coordinator, Tebow led the Gators to two national titles and won the Heisman Trophy.

While coaches and players spend a lot of time in each other’s company, they’re rarely friends. Players come and go and it’s a coach’s job to get the most out of them while they’re on campus.

Mullen and Tebow, though, are buds through and through. Their families are close. During the offseason, they picked up the phone to catch up. And though both are consumed with the trials of football season right now, they do find time to tap out a text now and again.

“I’ve always kind of had those kind of guys that really want to spend extra time in the office trying to become better players. That’s kind of where it went,” Mullen said. “For Tim and I, Tim is one of those players who wants to be the best he can be, so he would spend as much time around as he could, trying to learn. And when you spend that much time together, obviously you get a great relationship.”

The odds of Mississippi State knocking off the No. 2 Gators (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) are long. But the Bulldogs (3-4, 1-2) think that close relationship may help them.

“No one knows Tebow’s weaknesses better than coach Mullen does,” defensive back Maurice Langston said. “If anyone is going to be able to break him apart it’s going to be coach Mullen.”

Mullen didn’t really get to know Tebow until the top prospect finally committed to the Gators. Another coach was assigned to recruit him and Mullen entered the process late.

“We were there Sunday morning,” Mullen said. “LSU was pulling in the driveway as we were leaving and then Alabama was going to be there all day on Monday. He was making his decision on Tuesday. I know it was pretty tense because he was the quarterback of the future and as you look right now he was a guy that had to come in and be the guy right away.”

Mullen only had two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster at the time and the stakes were so high, he went to his office, locked the door and watched Tebow make the call on television.

It was one of the last times Mullen’s office would be locked. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound quarterback practically lived in there the next three years.

“I think a lot of Tim has rubbed off on me and I’m sure some of me has rubbed off on Tim,” Mullen said. “I don’t know if Day 1 we were completely similar. I think our competitiveness is very similar. Tim had the opportunity to be a great quarterback and he probably felt I would do a great job developing him, so we had that great working relationship.”

That relationship has been so symbiotic it pushed the friends to new heights in their careers.

Some consider Tebow the best college football player ever and it’s hard to argue with the All-American’s success. First sophomore to win the Heisman and a two-time finalist. Only player to pass for and rush for 20 touchdowns in a season. In his three seasons with Mullen, he threw for 6,390 yards and 67 touchdowns and rushed for 2,037 yards with 43 scores.

Mullen is credited, along with coach Urban Meyer, with popularizing the spread option offense. Mullen cashed in that cachet for the job at Mississippi State, becoming that rare assistant whose first head coaching job comes in the SEC.

Now Mullen is going to try to beat the stuffing out of his friend.

“It’s going to be great to see Tim because I love Tim and I’ll hopefully get a chance to say hello to him briefly before or after the game, he and his family,” Mullen said. “I think that would be fantastic. But as far as on the field I don’t know that anybody really jumps up and down and says, ‘I can’t wait to see Tim Tebow on the other sideline.'”


AP sports writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Vols’ Crompton is SEC offensive player of the week

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP/The Loop) — Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton was named the Southeastern Conference’s offensive player of the week after a career performance in a 45-19 win over Georgia.

The 6-foot-4, 228-pound Waynesboro, N.C., native went 20 for 27 for a career-high 310 yards in the Saturday win. He threw four touchdowns and an interception for the Volunteers (3-3, 1-2 SEC).

Crompton and his receivers have struggled often this season, but coach Lane Kiffin pledged to stick with the senior regardless of his performance.

“That’s huge,” he said after the game. “Nobody wants to look over their shoulder and worry about it because that’s when you play timid.”

Crompton won the starting job after competing with backup Nick Stephens during spring and fall practices. The two alternated as starter throughout last season under coach Phillip Fulmer, who at times pulled one quarterback in the middle of a game in favor of the other.

Crompton turned in his worst performance of the season against UCLA in week two when he went 13 for 26 for 93 yards and threw three interceptions but no touchdowns.

He’s gradually improved since as the wide receiving corps, which has been riddled with injuries this season, got healthier and improved timing with the quarterback. His previous career high came against Auburn on Oct. 3 when he threw for 259 yards.

Crompton’s pass efficiency rating for the season was 114.2 entering the game and 107.2 for his career. Against the Bulldogs (3-3, 2-1) his efficiency rating was 212.

Before his third-quarter interception, he attempted 88 passes without a pick.

“If we get our passing game on the same page and guys make plays, that helps a quarterback a ton and gives him confidence,” Kiffin said. “You saw that as the game went on. You saw him start forcing some balls in there in a good way because he had confidence the guys would make plays.”

Tennessee is off this week before traveling to No. 2 Alabama (6-0, 4-0) on Oct. 24.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.