Auburn entered the season with major question marks at running back, but the duo of Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway have put away those concerns and formed one of the best tandems in college football.
Peyton Barber left early for the NFL Draft.
Roc Thomas transferred to Jacksonville State.
Jovon Robinson was kicked off the team for violation of team rules.
Yes, the running back situation for Auburn looked bleak entering the 2016 season, as the top three rushers from the previous season were unexpectedly all gone. Could the Tigers even find one back that head coach Gus Malzahn could trust?
It turns out those worries were all for naught.
The Tigers rushing attack has become one of the best in the nation behind the play of Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway, ranking No. 3 in the nation averaging 302.86 yards per game.
“One of the big questions this year coming into the season was our running back depth,” Malzahn said on Tuesday. “I think it was a really good thing moving forward that we had the guys that we had step up. They did a super job running the football and protecting the football, so we definitely have some depth to that position.”
Step up they have. Johnson quickly became the starter in fall camp after Robinson was dismissed, and hasn’t disappointed, rushing for 538 yards and six touchdowns despite missing most of the last two games.
His absence was neutralized by Pettway, a bruising 6-foot, 240-pound rock who rushed 39 times for 169 yards and three touchdowns in the 38-14 over Mississippi State and then followed it up with a 192 yard and two touchdown performance in the rout of Arkansas.
“This is a good problem to have,” Malzahn said. “I’ll take you back to 2013 when we had the running back crew that we had, so I think Coach (Rhett) Lashlee can be a little bit more creative at times with personnel, but it is good that we have that many running backs and explosive players that we have.”
That 2013 team boasted the running back trio of Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne, and Corey Grant, as well as quarterback Nick Marshall, who ran for over 1,000 yards himself.
The bad news for opponents: there’s more than just Johnson and Pettway. Eli Stove, Kam Martin, and Stanton Truitt all found the end zone as the Tigers racked up 543 yards rushing in the 56-3 win against Arkansas this past Saturday.
A lot of the credit goes to running back coach Tim Horton, who has had seven different running backs reach 1,000 yards since 2007.
If the Tigers keep pounding the ball as well as they have been, Horton will be adding two more backs to that list.