When watching Auburn play football, it is hard to miss how centered the offense is on running the ball. Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter are putting the NCAA on notice with their constant 100-plus yard games. Hunter is hurdling defenders and Bigsby is racking up scores. But there is no run game without proper blocking. That is where Luke Deal comes in.
“I’ve just always enjoyed the physical nature of the game,” Deal said. “Being able to show that and being able to see the effects of the run game after that is pretty great. I'm enjoying it. I love doing the dirty work.”
Bigsby and Hunter are some of the nation’s leading rushers. Bigsby is 14th in the nation in total rushing yards and Hunter is 19th. In terms of average yards per rush, Hunter leads the nation with over 12 yards per carry.
All off-season, and so far during the season, Auburn players and coaches have stressed the need for downfield blocking.
Wide receiver Demetris Robertson said it was one of his favorite responsibilities. Head coach Bryan Harsin and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo both have said that if their players can’t or wont block, they won’t see the field.
“If anybody thinks you can have a good passing game without a good rushing game, they're wrong,” Deal said. “So keep running the football like we're doing. You can't emphasize that any more.”
On Saturday, both of Bigsby’s scores against Penn State were made possible by huge blocks from Deal.
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On the sophomore’s first rushing score, Deal lined up behind the center and right guard. When Bigsby took the ball, Deal slammed into the second level and pushed his man on the ground. In doing so, he took a second defender with him, clearing a huge gap for Bigsby’s score.
For Bigsby’s second score of the night against Penn State, he caught a toss on the right side. Clearing the way for the runner was none other than No. 86, Deal, who pancaked his defender to the turf, giving Bigbsy and his other lead blockers ample room to get in the end zone.
“The goal is to be the most physical team,” Deal said. “Just building the identity of tight ends, O-Line and running backs, that’s kind of what we want to be a part of, is that kind of physical run style.”
This season, Deal has not recorded a catch. Most of the tight end pass catching responsibilities are ceded to senior John Samuel Shenker, but Deal doesn’t mind. His job is to make room for his running backs, and he is certainly doing so.
When asked about how the passing game seems to have fallen far behind the run game, Deal solidified his belief in his skill players and quarterback Bo Nix.
“I believe in Bo. I think we all believe in Bo,” Deal said. “So we're all going to kind of key in on what we need to do for the next game.”
Deal has taken his responsibility to heart. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, and always has his signature smile on his face. It is almost hard to believe he turns into a bruising blocker every Saturday. Eventually Deal and his best friend Nix will connect on a pass. Whenever that may be, Deal said he will be ready.
“When the ball comes my way, I'll be ready, just like Shenk was ready last game,” Deal said. “We'll be ready for it.”
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