By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Coach Gus Malzahn figures he can't go wrong with either Kamryn Pettway or Kerryon Johnson in his backfield.
"Right now, they're both kind of 1 and 1A. Both of them are really carrying the load," says the Auburn coach.
That running back duo has helped take the Tigers to the top of the SEC team rushing charts. Pettway leads the SEC with 933 yards, even though he didn't have a single carry in two of Auburn's eight games. Johnson, fighting a sore ankle, has 580 yards.
Pettway, Johnson and the rest of the Tigers hope to be on the run again against Vanderbilt in Saturday's 11 a.m. game in Jordan-Hare Stadium that will be televised by ESPN.
Johnson was the starter early, but an injury or two allowed the powerful Pettway to come charging through.
"That's like a real train coming at you and he doesn't slow down," said Auburn defensive back Josh Holsey.
"I told him," Malzahn said, "every now and then to fake and run by them, but he really likes looking them up and running them over."
Pettway was named the SEC offensive player of the week after rushing for 236 yards in Auburn's 40-29 win at Ole Miss last week.
"He's getting more comfortable. He's running hard. He's breaking tackles," Malzahn said. "He's got a little speed once he gets going, too."
Johnson is staying fresh and is in the mix. The sore ankle has limited him to 14 carries in the last three games. Pettway has filled in gap, and then some, with a 96 carries over the same period.
"Kamryn is the hot hand right now," said offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, "but there are going to be plenty of times these last few games that K.J. is going to do what we know he can do."
Auburn is 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the league and not only leads the SEC in rushing, but in total offense. The Tigers are averaging 507.6 yards per game. Vanderbilt is 3-3 overall and 1-3 in the league and puts defense first.
"This is going to be a very physical football game," Malzahn said. "That's the way they play. That's the way we play. We're going to need to run it, and they know that."
Pettway spent last season blocking for others as an H-back. Now, he's getting the ball.
"We recruited him as a running back in high school and we thought he was a very good running back," Malzahn said. "Last year, we had a lot of running back depth, so to get him on the field, he had to play H-back.
"He was very physical and did a very good job with that. We moved him to running back in the spring and you could tell he picked right up where he left off in high school; we knew in the spring that he had a good chance to be a good running back. He is still learning as he goes, but he is a real weapon right now. He is running really hard, he's protecting the football and he’s getting more comfortable the more he plays."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine