Auburn’s Johnson could carry even bigger load in stretch run
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Kerryon Johnson has already been perhaps the Southeastern Conference’s busiest and most productive runner — when healthy.
Now, No. 16 Auburn could lean even more heavily on the tailback.
The Tigers’ latest backfield injury has sidelined No. 2 rusher Kamryn Pettway possibly for the remainder of the regular season. Both Johnson and Pettway (fractured shoulder blade) have already missed multiple games with injuries, and nobody else has consistently gotten carries going into Saturday’s game at Texas A&M.
“You have to adjust,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “The positive is Kerryon Johnson is one of the best running backs in our league and you see the confidence he is playing at right now. We have other guys we feel good about, too, that are going to be big down the stretch right now. So I feel good about where we are.”
Johnson and Pettway, an All-SEC performer last season, have seldom been healthy at the same time anyway this season. Pettway also was suspended for the first game.
Johnson had already overtaken Pettway as Auburn’s go-to back. He’s leading the SEC with 120.5 yards per game and is tied for second nationally with 14 rushing touchdowns despite missing two early games with a hamstring injury.
But Pettway has also taken turns as the workhorse while Johnson was injured and ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns in the last game against Arkansas, when he was hurt late.
Now, Kam Martin moves into the backup role after having four games where he didn’t log a carry. He ran just once against the Razorbacks for 4 yards. Malik Miller and freshman Devan Barrett have also played sporadically.
“There’s a good chance that you’ll see all three of them on the field from here on out,” Malzahn said.
Johnson, who often takes the direct snap, has already been shouldering a big load. He has averaged 26 carries over the last four games while scoring 13 touchdowns in the last five.
Keeping him fresh in the fourth quarter is also a priority with games against No. 2 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama looming after the Aggies.
Johnson had 16 first-half carries before getting hurt in the opener against Georgia Southern. Before the half, he had 15 runs against Mississippi State and 21 against LSU.
“Obviously, down the stretch, there’s a decent chance games will go into the fourth quarter, so that was part of that conversation,” Malzahn said. “And, of course, I’m not going to sit here right now and tell you what our plan is, but that is something we’ve talked about and we’ll have a plan for.”
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