The postgame of the Peach Bowl had to be an all-too-familiar feeling for Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson.
Johnson sat in front of his locker inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium as media swarmed around him after the Tigers’ 34-27 loss to UCF on Monday. For his second straight trip to Atlanta, Johnson had to answer questions about what went wrong, as the Auburn run game once again faltered and the Tigers once again lost.
Johnson took 22 carries for 71 yards and one touchdown on a day that saw the Auburn ground game be nearly non-existent. At the game’s conclusion, the Tigers had posted a paltry 2 yards-per-carry average.
For Johnson, the struggles weren’t so much about the UCF defense. Rather, it was a product of Auburn’s self-inflicted wounds.
“Our execution just wasn’t clicking,” Johnson said. “It was nothing they were really doing that was just killing us -- we were just messing up. When you do that and don’t have any adjustments to make. With that, we just had to come out and decide if we wanted to win the game or not. We showed we fought to the end. We just came up a little short.”
To that point, Johnson did credit the Knights’ aggressive defense. Johnson explained that teams have keyed in on Auburn’s rushing attack given its strength, and the Knights were one of only a few teams who were successful in slowing them down.
As far as motivation was concerned, Johnson made it clear he and his teammates were ready to go. He dispelled any “outside talk” as far as the players not giving their all, saying everyone involved realizes the work they put in to add an 11th win to the season.
“We were plenty motivated to get this win. We just shot ourselves in the foot,” Johnson said. “We knew how bad we wanted to win this game, and that’s what matters.”
Now that the season is over, Johnson will soon have a decision to make.
As a junior, Johnson is eligible to declare for the NFL Draft. Johnson explained he has no timetable for making decision, stressing that he wants to sit down to weigh the positives and negatives of declaring or sticking around one more year.
Johnson emphasized that he understands the magnitude of his decision.
“I just want to make sure when I make a decision I’m comfortable with it,” Johnson said. “That’s a life choice. I’ve just got to take time to do it.”
Johnson was one of the top running backs in the country, rushing for 1,320 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2017. His play caught national attention several times, shown in his finishing ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
While it’s not clear yet if Monday’s disappointing showing was his last game as an Auburn Tiger, Johnson said he was happy with how his junior campaign played out.
“I feel like everybody on this team knows and I know that I came out here and I fought every single game,” Johnson said. “Every time I was out there on the field, I gave it 100 (percent).
“At the end of the day, you can’t ask for anything more from yourself than that.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports