By Greg Ostendorf
ATLANTA – The last time Kerryon Johnson played in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, he wasn’t close to 100 percent. It was the SEC championship game, and the junior running back ran for 44 yards on just 13 carries a week after he left the Alabama game with a shoulder injury.
On Monday, Johnson will get a chance at redemption.
The Tigers are back in Atlanta playing UCF in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and after nearly a month off, Johnson is back to his old self again, both on and off the field.
“The time off these past couple weeks has really helped,” Johnson said. “I’m doing great, feeling good. I’m just ready to see how it goes in the game.”
“He’s been great,” Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham said. “He’s been the old Kerryon this week, every day. It’s the same old, same old, pretty much. Back to the old joking, laughing Kerryon that everybody knows. He’s always got that big smile on his face.”
Johnson, who promised reporters Friday that he is indeed 100 percent, has been the focal point of Auburn’s offense this season. He was named the SEC offensive player of the year after rushing for 1,320 yards and 17 touchdowns in just 11 games, and his 15 rushing touchdowns in SEC play tied Cam Newton (2010) for the most in school history.
The Doak Walker Award semifinalist also caught 23 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns, and he even threw a touchdown in the Alabama game.
“It’s more than stats,” Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said this week. “He’s obviously one of our leaders. A guy like him who can do so much – he’s so versatile in the pass game and with protections and obviously running the ball, too – he’s a big part of what we do on offense. And when you don’t have him available, you have to try to become creative. We’re looking forward to having him back.”
Johnson had two weeks after the SEC championship game to rest and recover before Auburn began its bowl practice. Then it was a matter of working on his spin moves, his stiff arm – all the things that make him the player that he is. And more than anything, he had to prove to himself that he could do it all during practice before playing in a game.
“You have to convince yourself that if I can’t do it now, I can’t do it in the game,” Johnson said. “If I can’t do it out here (in practice), if I can’t move like I want to, if I can’t play the way I normally play, then what good am I?”
But Johnson said he hasn’t felt any limitations the past two weeks in practice. Now he’s just ready to take that first hit in Monday’s Peach Bowl.
“That first hit gets you in the game whether you’re injured or not,” Johnson said. “But if you’re injured, that first hit – you want to see how you take it. It’s going to feel a lot better [Monday] than when I took it in the Georgia game. I know that.”
Auburn and UCF will kick off at 11:30 p.m. CT on ESPN.
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @greg_ostendorf
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl Ticket Information
Join Coach Malzahn and the seventh ranked Tigers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as they play tenth ranked and undefeated UCF in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Monday, January 1. Tickets are available online at AUBTIX.com or by phone at (855) 282-2010.