AUBURN, Ala. — Running backs coach Curtis Luper had a good idea of what Auburn was getting in Mike Dyer when it signed him out of Little Rock, Ark., last February.
The 8,000 career rushing yards, powerful body build and high recruiting rankings all signaled future success, even if there was a shred of doubt in the back of Luper’s mind, however minuscule, that may not be the case.
“There’s always that unknown, until you actually get them here, until they get hit in the mouth,” Luper said. “But you love it when they’re better than you thought they were.”
Dyer has been everything the Tigers have wanted. The freshman has 799 rushing yards through 10 games, most among Auburn’s tailbacks.
He’s 31 yards shy of nudging aside the biggest name in Auburn football history, former Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson, for the school’s freshman rushing record.
Jackson, who ran for 829 yards as a freshman in 1982, has been a frequent visitor around the Auburn locker room this season, offering advice whenever he can.
“When he says something to you, you’re like, ‘OK, that’s what I’ve got to do,’” Dyer said. “I mean, it’s Bo Jackson.”
“I know Bo talked to all those guys on how to finish, and it’s probably something they really took to heart,’’ head coach Gene Chizik said.
Auburn plans to add to Dyer’s workload in the season’s final weeks, now that he’s better accustomed to playing at the college level and his bothersome right knee is closer to 100 percent.
“It was our intent to kind of start off slow with him, and kind of work him into the offense, so the last four or five games of the season we could have him at full strength,” Luper said. “He can finish games. He needs carries. He can handle 30, probably. He’s strong. He likes to get in that rhythm.”
Luper’s goal for Dyer is to carry it 20-25 times a game, being the workhorse back to complement Cam Newton, and possibly take some of the physical toll off the quarterback.
“We’re really appreciative of his work, but there’s always that feeling that hey, we have a role in this,” Dyer said.
“We want to do our part. When the time comes to actually do our part, that’s what we’re going to do.”
After a 15-carry, 100-yard effort against LSU, Dyer carried it 21 times for a career-high 180 yards against Ole Miss two week ago. He showed a burst to the perimeter on his 30-yard touchdown run, using a different gear to get to the sideline.
“Throughout high school I learned that as the games goes on, I might get a little stronger and a little urge to me,” Dyer said, “because I know what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it.”
Dyer had only four carries against FCS Chattanooga on Saturday but still racked up 76 yards, 37 of which came on a touchdown run just before halftime.
His 799 rushing yards are second nationally among freshman running backs and 47 more than South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, the other ballyhooed SEC back from the 2010 signing class.
With three, possibly four, games remaining, Dyer has a good chance of eclipsing 1,000 yards for the season, a significant milestone for a freshman runner.
In the last decade, only three SEC running backs have done it as a freshman: Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno had 1,334 yards in 2007, Arkansas’ Darren McFadden had 1,113 yards in 2005 and LSU’s Justin Vincent had 1,001 yards in 2003.
Luper is not surprised Dyer has a chance to join that group.
“He’s very conscientious,” Luper said.
“He wants to do well. He wants to win. He studies extra. He’s what we thought he was and more.”
Note: Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley were named semifinalists for the Maxwell (national player of the year) and Bednarik (national defensive player of the year) awards, respectively. The 16 semifinalists for each award will be narrowed to three finalists on Nov. 22. The winners will be announced as part of ESPN’s College Football Awards Show on Dec. 9.