War Eagle Extra

Why a healthy Kerryon Johnson creates a ‘good problem’ for Auburn’s backfield

Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson warms up before the Arkansas game Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson warms up before the Arkansas game Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn rushed for a season-high 543 yards in a 56-3 win over Arkansas Saturday night without leading rusher Kerryon Johnson.

Johnson went through pregame warm-ups with his teammates sporting a taped up right ankle, but coaches decided to keep the sophomore on the sideline.

“I thought that was very important moving forward not just this game, but the rest of the year,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of the decision.

Malzahn still wants to see how Johnson handles practice this week before making a final decision, but he expects the running back to return to the lineup Saturday at Ole Miss.

“I think he’s getting closer to 100 percent each day,” Malzahn said.

It was the most definitive statement Malzahn has made since Johnson injured his ankle on Auburn’s second drive against Mississippi State.

Johnson’s return will test Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s ability to juggle distribution of the football.

Kamryn Pettway is thriving as Auburn’s top back — he has 66 carries for 361 yards and five touchdowns the last two games — as wide receiver turned running back Stanton Truitt has turned into a reliable option.

“He's been working extremely hard the last three or four weeks doing that,” Malzahn said of Truitt. “He had his opportunity the other night and he runs between the tackles very well. He's got a lot of great instincts and he's got another gear. I think that will be something we can utilize the rest of the season.”

Freshman Eli Stove and Kam Martin also had an impact Saturday night. Stove opened up Auburn’s offensive onslaught with a 78-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.

Malzahn isn’t losing sleep over having too many reliable offensive options.

“That’s a good problem to have take you back to 2013 when we had that crew of running backs we had,” Malzahn said. “Coach Lashlee can be a little more creative at times with personnel. It’s good we have that many running backs or really even explosive players that we have.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra

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