Tigers' offensive line shares youthful look

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ATHENS, Ga. --- A Georgia graduate assistant gave coach Mark Richt an Auburn depth chart in advance of Saturday's game at Sanford Stadium. What jumped off the page to Richt was the mirror image of his own offensive line.

No. 18 Auburn and No. 10 Georgia will meet as top 20 teams with three freshmen starters on their respective units.

"I was looking at their personnel and sure enough," Richt said. "I don't know how many are redshirts and how many are true freshmen."

The answer: Auburn right tackle Lee Ziemba, right guard Chaz Ramsey and left tackle Ryan Pugh are all first-year freshmen.

"Every one of them? All three of them?" Richt asked. "Wow. How 'bout that?" Georgia starts first-year freshmen left tackle Trinton Sturdivant and right guard Clint Boling and redshirt freshman left guard Chris Davis.

No other team in the top 20 of this week's AP poll starts more than one freshman offensive lineman.

Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo and Florida guard Maurkice Pouncey are full-time starters, but Southern California tackle Butch Lewis and Virginia Tech center Beau Warren have been injury replacements.

"It really doesn't make any difference how old you are or whether you're a freshman or senior," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "If you've got the look in your eye that you want to play, and you give it all you've got in practice and listen and understand and play as a group, you have a chance to play."

"This group has been very good for us. They've played like seasoned veterans. They've gotten better each week."

Auburn and Georgia both immediately tapped into recruiting classes that were ranked 1-2 respectively in offensive line recruits by Rivals.com.

"It shows that the 2007 class was strong and a freshman can compete in the SEC," Ziemba said.

Georgia's offense has scored a combined 86 points the past two weeks, and Richt attributes that largely to better blocking from the offensive line.

"That's the big key," Richt said. "When you give a quarterback a little bit more time and you give running backs a little more space, your skill tends to play better when those guys play well up front. I think that's a big part of it."

The Bulldogs are tied for third best in the SEC in sacks allowed with 11, and the line has helped pave the way for three consecutive 100-yard rushing games for Knowshon Moreno.

Auburn ranks in the bottom half of most of the SEC team offensive categories, but Tuberville says the freshmen have performed well.

"You've got to look at it in terms of we've got some good offensive linemen that are not playing much," Tuberville said. "We didn't have a lot of continuity in the beginning of the year. We were making too many mistakes, not playing as a group."

Ziemba has been a fixture in Auburn's starting lineup since he became the first freshman to start a season opener since receivers Ben Obomanu and Devin Aromoshudu in 2002.

Tuberville listed Terrence Metcalf at Ole Miss as the only other freshmen offensive linemen in his 13 seasons as head coach that started the season opener their freshman year.

Reach Marc Weiszer at marc.weiszer@onlineathens.com.


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