By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Kerryon Johnson's touchdown binge -- 11 rushing TDs in 3 games -- is that he's still recovering from a hamstring injury sustained in Auburn's season opener.
"I felt so close to normal that I just couldn't hide it," said Johnson, who scored three first-half touchdowns in Auburn's 44-23 win Saturday over Ole Miss.
"In the open field I was making people miss. I was able to get up to a faster speed than last week, and it just felt really good to be closer to normal again."
While tallying eight touchdowns in Auburn's wins over Missouri and Mississippi State, Johnson lacked the speed burst he's always had when healthy. Taking the yards that were there and living to fight another day, as he put it.
Against Ole Miss, when Johnson reached back for that little something extra, his legs delivered to the tune of 28 carries for 204 yards, both career highs.
"When you get 28 carries and the blocking is that good, it's pretty easy to get up to 200," Johnson said. "I just focused on taking care of the ball, winning one-on-one matchups when I got them, and I was able to do that."
One hundred percent? Almost.
"I was close," he said. "I was definitely 95 to 100. I felt that way all week. I know I'm getting better. We've just got to keep it going."
Johnson scored Auburn's first touchdown from 17 yards, then added TD runs of 48 and 5 yards in the second quarter.
"The thing about Kerryon is that he's one of the toughest players we have," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "I don't know of a lot of players that week one will be running for a touchdown, and they pull a hamstring bad enough to where they have to go down and then be able to come back two weeks later and be able to play at the high level he is right now.
"It says a lot about him. We'll get him 100 percent in the near future. I really like how he's playing right now. He's a heck of a running back. If you watch him pass protect and everything, he does everything right. He's a complete football player."
"That's an honor," Johnson said of his coach's compliment. "He's had a lot of good players. He's had a lot of tough players. For him to say that, that just means I'm doing my job right."
On the day when Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson became the SEC's all-time leading scorer with 413 points, Johnson praised his teammate while giving reporters a refresher course in math.
"We've got the best field goal kicker in all the land, but we're trying to use him sparingly," Johnson said. "Touchdowns win games and field goals help, but touchdowns do it."
Johnson also thanked Auburn's offensive line for creating room to run, especially on plays where he hesitates before hitting the hole, requiring the linemen to hold their blocks longer.
"When it comes together, it's beautiful," he said.
With that, Mr. Touchdown departed the interview room to celebrate Auburn's third consecutive SEC blowout of 20 points or more, something the Tigers last accomplished 30 years ago.
"That's a pretty good stride, so I think we're there," Johnson said. "Now the thing is we've got to maintain it and see where it gets us."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer