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Brad Zimanek: If Johnson doesn’t return, AU good times might not last

November 26, 2017

AUBURN — Auburn has done it all in a short time. The Tigers defeated two No. 1 ranked teams in three weeks – first Georgia and arch rival Alabama on Saturday.

The Tigers are headed to Atlanta for a rematch next Saturday with the Bulldogs for the SEC Championship. A berth in the College Football Playoff awaits the winner.

Auburn is playing its best football at the right time.

However, there’s a major reason for concern.

With Auburn leading 26-14, and trying to run out the clock in the fourth quarter, Kerryon Johnson went down with a shoulder injury. The Tigers can’t afford for their star back to miss any playing time now. They can’t afford to lose their MVP.

Johnson remained on the field for a few minutes before being helped off.

He did not return and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said afterward he was unsure of Johnson’s status. Johnson finished with 30 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown.

Johnson’s rushed for 1,276 yards and scored 16 touchdowns this season and deserves a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He’s the SEC’s likely Player of the Year.

If he is unable to play next week against Georgia, the Tigers’ chances of continuing its remarkable season is in jeopardy.

Quarterback Jarrett Stidham played his best game of the year against Alabama. He was his usually efficient self through the air, but more importantly on the ground – 12 carries for 51 yards and the game-clinching 16-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

It gave Johnson a welcome breather when Auburn needed it and diversified the Tigers’ attack just enough against the Crimson Tide. But Stidham can’t do it alone next week.

The Tigers already lost star running back Kamryn Pettway for the season and he came into the year as the SEC’s leading returning rusher.

Kam Martin is quick and shifty but is not durable enough to withstand the pounding Johnson endures each week. Malzahn has not shown confidence in Martin much this year in key situations. He may have no other choice next week.

Enjoy the revelry. Roll Toomer’s Corner. Celebrate the aftermath of beating Alabama for the first time since 2013.

But if Johnson does not receive a positive medical report heading into next week’s game, Auburn’s incredible season could go down as the one that didn’t go far enough.

And, that’s a feeling no Auburn fan wants to experience especially after sending Nick Saban and the top-ranked and previously undefeated Crimson Tide packing yesterday.

Contact Montgomery Advertiser Sports Editor Brad Zimanek at bzimanek@gannett.com. Twitter: @bzimanek.

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