War Eagle Extra

Dynamic duo: Auburn RBs Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway want to be SEC’s best

Auburn running backs huddle up during the pregame before facing Arkansas St. Saturday, Sept. 11, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn running backs huddle up during the pregame before facing Arkansas St. Saturday, Sept. 11, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson is happy to share the spotlight.

The much talked about one-two punch of Johnson and Kamryn Pettway debuted as a tandem Saturday night, and what a debut it was in a 51-14 win over Arkansas St.

Auburn’s 462 rushing yards were the fourth most in program history. Both sophomore backs had their first career 100-yard rushing game.

Johnson was a “little surprised” when Pettway didn’t carry the ball against Clemson, but the extra wait was worth it as the former fullback accounted for a team-high 152 yards.

“I think it is very valuable,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of his backfield combination. “We are still learning about those two guys as well. KJ has had two games in a row in which he has carried the ball numerous times and tonight was Pettway’s first time to really carry the load. Those guys will continue to get better.”

Malzahn might be a little cautious about projecting expectations for the pair after one game, but Johnson wasn’t as reluctant.

“I believe we can be the best duo in the SEC without a doubt in my mind,” Johnson said. “Without a doubt in my mind. He’s big, he’s fast and he’s physical. I come in and just do my thing. If we are running the ball and we are getting downhill there aren’t many teams that are going to be able to stop us.”

Can’t touch this

Johnson did some amazing things Saturday night.

The former Alabama Mr. Football turned a little underhanded flip from Sean White at midfield into a 47-yard touchdown run.

With defenders surrounding him behind the line of scrimmage, he went sideline-to-sideline turning what looked like a three-yard loss into seven points. He put an exclamation point on the play by hurdling a defender at the goal line, a move he’s broken out before.

He also scored another touchdown out the wildcat and had more than 100-yards rushing for the first time in his career.

“He’s got some unique abilities,” Malzahn said. “He can do some things that can kind of wow you at times, and I thought that was really impressive.”

Johnson has scored in three straight games going back to last year’s Birmingham Bowl.

The motivated Madison Academy alum is well on his way to becoming a premiere playmaker in the SEC in his new starting role averaging more than five yards a carry in two games with six runs of 10 yards or more.

Patience pays off

Good things come to those who wait.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talked about increasing running back Kamryn Pettway’s role in the offense this week after he was mostly relegated to special teams work in the opener against Clemson. Malzahn made the pledge to Pettway personally as well.

“Coach told me he respected and like the fact that I did what I did last week and said he was going to reward me,” Pettway said.

Pettway, who was a running back at Prattville, moved to fullback as a true freshman to provide the offense key depth at the position. The 6-foot-0, 240-pounder bruiser started multiple games last season, but didn’t carry the ball.

When Auburn lost multiple running backs this offseason, Pettway changed positions again.

Pettway’s first career carry came in the first quarter on a short 4-yard gain up the middle. It took multiple defenders to bring him down, which would become a reoccurring theme for Arkansas St.’s defense.

It was a long time coming for Pettway, but the running back didn’t spend much time getting caught up in the moment.

“It’s just like I jumped right back in the groove again,” Pettway said.

Pettway’s play backed up his words.

The running back averaged more than 10 yards a carry with the highlight of the night coming on a 64-yard run late in the first half. A defensive back chased Pettway down at the 2-yard line.

“I honestly didn’t (think I would get caught),” Pettway said with a smile. “But it happened, so I just know I’ve got to get faster.”