In his first year on the Plains in 2020, right guard Keiondre Jones was tasked with the job of trying to patch up Auburn’s makeshift offensive line. He stepped into a position that was riddled with injuries and inconsistency after junior guard Brandon Council went down with a season-ending injury just five games into the fall schedule.
Now, a second-year starter with heavier expectations on his shoulders, Jones is taking responsibility for the Tigers’ offensive line struggles early into the 2021 season and refused to downplay the role that the line serves in the success of the offense.
“We just gotta execute better," Jones said. "It’s not really a set thing, it’s on us. Coaches put us in a great game plan, like I said, we work throughout the week so when it comes down to game time, we just gotta make sure we do what we do. And that’s why we came here, to execute and do our job."
Auburn’s lowest rushing yards and lowest rushing yards per attempt of the year came against Georgia. Tank Bigsby and company only carried the ball for 46 yards throughout the contest for less than two yards a carry. A strong back can’t be expected to succeed if they have no push at the line of scrimmage or if they are getting hit behind it.
Jones spoke about the need for the line to make it easier for the Tigers to utilize their talented running backs and how much focus the team is put in this week to try to accomplish that in their next matchup versus No. 17 Arkansas.
“That’s a huge emphasis on this week for us," Jones said. "Coach Friend, coach Bobo, coach Harsin, they’ve all challenged us this week because we feel like we need to be more physical, more assertive into the run game...Just making sure we take care of our business so we can move people up front, which we’re very capable of doing. We know we can do it so we just gotta go out on Saturday and show that.”
Jones credits first-year offensive line coach Will Friend for his growth at the position in the past few months and with techniques that he’s been honing in on in his own game. Many players view reactionary speed and scheme understanding as a few of the most important aspects of football, on both sides of the ball.
“I feel like I’ve come a long way," Jones said. "Just thinking back to my freshman year, or even high school, little things like pad level and hands inside are things that I’m emphasizing for myself to get ready for this week and just the rest of my career here. Under coach Friend, coach Friend is a great coach, he’s given me so much just football knowledge…
Just understanding the game so much better which has helped me tremendously. You can play a lot faster when you know and you can anticipate what’s going on. (That’s) been big for me.”
Auburn’s next opponent is one it can get quality rushing attempts in against so long as the scoreboard stays somewhat level. Arkansas averages 181 yards given up on the ground per game entering its matchup with the Tigers.
The Razorbacks are capable of laying on 50+ points on in-conference talent as they just exemplified in a loss to Ole Miss. With a possible high score shootout on the way, the Tigers’ offense will look to replicate the same things they did two weeks ago when they gashed the LSU defense with 178 yards rushing.
“I feel like we’re obviously very talented," Jones said. "It just comes down to the little things, making sure we got these steps here; or we run this route correctly, make sure we hit this hole correctly, make sure we put our hands here...The coaches have been harping on it all week, they’ve been harping on it all season so now it’s time to take ownership of that as players and get that done.”
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Larry is a senior studying journalism with a minor in sociology. He is from Enterprise, Alabama and is in his third year with The Auburn Plainsman.