Auburn still aiming to get ground game going

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - The Auburn Tigers are still trying to get physical. The Tigers (4-5) seemed likely to revert back to old-school football and try to overpower opposing defenses with the running game after a midseason change in philosophies, but it hasn't happened.

The tailbacks still aren't getting an abundance of carries and the offensive line hasn't suddenly started pushing opposing linemen backward and opening holes for them to run through.

"We're not tough enough right now, running the football," tackle Lee Ziemba said. "We're not where we were last year. We keep striving for that. It isn't the want-to. We want to, we've just got to get it done, just stop talking about it and just do it."

Toughness isn't the only issue holding the running game back leading up to Saturday's game with Tennessee-Martin (7-2).

Tailbacks Ben Tate and Brad Lester have been hampered by injuries, and Mario Fannin had a recovering shoulder that kept him out of the backfield early in the season.

Then there was the midseason switch from Tony Franklin's uptempo spread offense that was scrapped when Tuberville fired the offensive coordinator.

The running game hasn't taken off since then to support sophomore quarterback Kodi Burns, with the offensive line having to switch gears in blocking styles.

Burns had the Tigers' first 300-yard passing game since the 2005 season opener against Mississippi in a 17-7 loss.

Tate, Lester and Fannin combined for 16 carries for 54 yards. Burns was the leading rusher in the previous two games. "We've been trying to work back to that mode of just knocking people off the ball and creating running lanes for the running backs," guard Tyronne Green said.

Tate is easily the Tigers' leading rusher but he's been slowed by hamstring problems and has only 18 carries in the past three games.

Without a go-to back, the Tigers have been held below 100 yards on the ground four times in the last six games, and have managed just four rushing touchdowns during that span. "We don't have the one guy at running back that we know we can call his number and they're going to do the perfect thing, like we have in the past," Tuberville said. "We've got a bunch of guys out there that we're alternating in trying to find the right consistency. Mario has probably been the most consistent, along with Ben Tate. "The mental things have hurt us in protection. You hate to put one guy in to do one thing and one guy in to do the other. We've got to have a complete package out of one running back."

Without that luxury, the Tigers have averaged just 130 yards rushing despite gaining 321 in the opener against Louisiana-Monroe.

The program that had been shipping running backs like Rudi Johnson, Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown to the NFL with regularity had dropped off some last season, though Tate still flirted with a 1,000-yard season.

"Last year we weren't quite as physical as we needed to be," Tuberville said. "We got away from the running game and now we've gotten back to it. I think that will all work itself out."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)