By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — They call him Bubba. But Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee says it may be time for Kamryn Pettway to have a new nickname.
"Maybe we're supposed to call him Bruiser now."
Maybe so. Pettway carried it another 30 times, gained 236 more yards and helped Auburn beat Ole Miss 40-29 Saturday night in Oxford. The SEC's leading rusher now has 933 yards, though he didn't have a carry in the opener and didn't play in Week 5 because of a bruised quad.
The Bruiser has been making up for lost time to the tune of 39 carries, 27 carries, 30 carries and 30 more carries over the last four games; and has helped Auburn move to third in the nation in rushing. Pettway is sixth in the nation in rushing heading to Saturday's game against Vanderbilt at 11 a.m. in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Lashlee said running backs coach Tim Horton predicted in the spring that Pettway, who didn't have a carry as an H-back last season, could handle the load.
"He said, 'He's going to be just fine. He's going to be really good.' Well, Tim knows what he's talking about, but he really hadn't done a lot. I don't think Tim or any of us knew he'd get on this tear, but he just done a good job of going downhill.
"He'd be the first to tell you it's because the guys upfront are blocking good for him. Right now, he's got the hot hand, but I thought both guys ran really hard last night and we're very fortunate he's running the ball like he is."
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Auburn followed up its 544 rushing yards against Arkansas — the most rushing yards by one SEC team against another in any regular season — with 307 more rushing yards against Ole Miss. Pettway got help this time from Kerryon Johnson, who missed most of one game and all of the previous game after hurting his ankle. Johnson gained 42 yards on 11 carries, but, more importantly, scored two touchdowns on direct snaps.
Who knew all of this was possible after the three would-be top returning running backs – Peyton Barber, Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas – would be gone before the season even started?
"One leaves early for the draft, the other two decide to go to different places," Lashlee said. "We felt really good about Kerryon, but he'd just been a true freshman. That's why in the spring we used Kamryn. The positive is when we signed him, he was a high school running back. We kind of signed him saying, 'OK, he's going to be a really good running back or we know he can play fullback.' We just didn't know how it would start at fullback and go back to running back."
Johnson was the primary running back early in the year. Injuries slowed him, so in stepped Pettway, converted receiver Stanton Truitt, blocking back Chandler Cox and freshman Kam Martin.
"You worry about depth because when you recruit, you don't expect guys to leave that early," Lashlee said. "Credit to those guys, the backs, and the fact that we run the ball so well is a team thing."
And now Johnson and his 580 yards and his eight touchdowns are rounding back into full health. Lashlee was impressed Saturday night.
"He may not get the credit, because if you look at the stat line and everybody is talking about Bubba, and he did great." But, Lashlee added, Johnson "had the two touchdown runs inside the red zone which gives us that flexibility with a guy who can catch a snap. He had some of the better 4, 5 and 6-yard runs last night of anybody. Running over guys. He was the same guy he's always been.
"He's a great third-down back for us. He's really good in pass protection. It was good to have him back, and not only have him back and play well, but to get out of the game no worse for it, and should be in good shape moving forward. Obviously, Kamryn is the hot hand right now, but there's going to be plenty of times these last few games that K.J. is going to do what we know he can do."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine
Kerryon Johnson, team guy, says when you see Auburn teammate Kamryn Pettway coming at you 'it strikes fear in defenders.' Video pic.twitter.com/71b73WqH6Z
— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) October 30, 2016