No question: Auburn's running backs answer the call
Kamryn Pettway and Auburn left Arkansas in their wake last Saturday
Oct. 25, 2016

By Charles Goldberg
AuburnTigers.com

AUBURN, Ala. -- The Auburn running game that smashed the SEC rushing record in a conference game last weekend may get yet another boost when the Tigers play at Ole Miss on Saturday.

Kerryon Johnson is on track to return to action after missing last Saturday's 56-3 win over Arkansas with a sore ankle.

"I would expect him to play," coach Gus Malzahn said. "I think he's moving closer to 100 percent each day."

Malzahn reserved the right to reverse his course, saying he'd know more after Tuesday's practice. But either way Auburn figures to run at Ole Miss. The Tigers rushed for 543 yards in the win over Arkansas -- the most ever by an SEC team in a league game -- and running mate Kamryn Pettway jumped to the top of the league rushing charts and became Auburn's leading rusher in the process. The Tigers also got contributions from receiver-turned-running back Stanton Truitt's three touchdowns, freshman Kam Martin's late burst and Eli Stove's end-around for 78 yards for a touchdown.

Remember, Auburn came into the season without its three leading rushers from the year before.

"One of the big questions coming into the season was our running back depth," Malzahn said. "I thought it was a really good thing moving forward, that we had the guys that we had step up and just do a super job, running the football, protecting the football. So, we have some depth at that position."

Auburn practices with four tailbacks -- Pettway, Johnson, Martin and Truitt. Their styles differ, and that gives offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee flexibility in his play calls.

"Coach Lashlee can be a little more creative at times with personnel, but it's good that we've got that many running backs, or really even explosive players that we have," Malzahn said.

Related story: Auburn's offensive line has paved the way

Johnson left Auburn's win over Mississippi State two games back after just three carries when he hurt his ankle. He was Auburn's leading rusher then. Now, it's Pettway with 697 yards and Johnson with 538. Auburn is the only team with two running backs in the Top 10 in SEC rushing.

Pettway and Johnson have combined for 223 carries -- and have combined to lose only 12 yards. Only two of Pettway's 118 carries have gone for negative yards, and just minus-3 yards at that.

Malzahn said Pettway has gotten "his opportunity this year and he's getting more and more comfortable each year. Once he crosses that first level, it's really a challenge to tackle him one on one, at least high, he's usually looking for people" to run over.

Johnson practiced last week, but was held out Saturday.

"The good thing is we didn't have to play him last week. I thought that was very important moving forward, not just this game but the rest of the year," Malzahn said.

Martin made an impact late last Saturday, scoring on 51-yard run and finishing with 80 yards rushing.

"He ran hard, too," Malzahn said. "There were some runs that he was trying to move forward. We talk to our freshmen about, after the midpoint in the season, we're no longer freshmen. He really responded like that, as well as a lot of our other freshmen did, too. He's a very talented young man.

Also...

• Malzahn said during his weekly Tuesday press conference that the win over Arkansas was "a complete game."

"We talked about getting better. Obviously, after the game and watching the tape, I feel like we did that, he said. "We've got to continue to do that."

And now, "we're playing a very talented Ole Miss team this week."

• Malzahn said it "doesn't look like" defensive backs Jeremiah Dinson or Jamel Dean will play this season. Neither has played since offseason knee surgery.

Malzahn said give Dinson "a few more months, get him to spring, and get him back 100 percent." Malzahn said he's also looking forward to getting Dean "back in the mix."

"Those are two outstanding football players that we don't have right now."

• Malzahn said he's happy with Austin Golson's move from tackle back to center.

"I've been very impressed. He's a great communicator. He can ID things very well. He has that year under his belt. Snaps have been good. He's done a very good job."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter:



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