War Eagle Extra

Injuries push Auburn into survival mode

Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson warms up before playing Arkansas at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson warms up before playing Arkansas at Jordan-Hare Stadium. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

No one would have envisioned Rudy Ford as Auburn’s best option at running back a week ago, but that’s the reality the Tigers face heading into Saturday’s home finale against Alabama A&M.

Coach Gus Malzahn laid out his team’s ominous injury report earlier this week ruling out running back Kamryn Pettway, H-back Chandler Cox and wide receiver Marcus Davis.

Stanton Truitt, one of Pettway’s backups, will also sit out.

Auburn’s backfield would be in capable hands if Kerryon Johnson was healthy, but he’s far from it. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said the sophomore was “playing on one leg” against Georgia.

The Tigers’ annual FCS matchup would normally be an opportunity for players nursing injuries like Johnson (ankle) to sit, but the coaching staff might not have that luxury considering the shakeup at quarterback.

Malzahn ruled out Auburn starting quarterback Sean White during his Tiger Talk radio show Thursday night. White reaggravated an injury to his throwing shoulder in a 13-7 loss to Georgia.

John Franklin III spent all season as Auburn’s No. 2 quarterback, but Malzahn wouldn’t commit to the junior college transfer as the backup option against Alabama A&M earlier this week.

“John Franklin's taken all the No. 2 reps,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “Jeremy's taken reps the last couple of weeks. Not ready to make a call exactly on that. Later in the week, I'll definitely let everybody know.”

Franklin’s shaky start against the Commodores may have given the coaching staff pause.

Malzahn’s indecisiveness took some of the shock out of his announcement Thursday that forgotten man Jeremy Johnson will start. Johnson hasn’t started a game since last year’s Iron Bowl.

There’s no question Alabama A&M still faces long odds, but all the uncertainty has added a level of intrigue into what was expected to be a laugher.

The Bulldogs have lost their last four game against FBS opponents by an average of 43 points, which includes their 51-7 loss at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2012. They are giving up 37 points and 447 yards of offense per game this season.

Alabama A&M doesn’t have the same kind of talent level of the Jacksonville State team that pushed Auburn into overtime last season, but the game could share a key similarity — the Tigers winning ugly.

“We didn’t play up to our standard,” Malzahn said after the 27-20 win last year.

On Saturday, it will be hard for Auburn’s offense to live up to the standard it set in October averaging more than 575 yards a game with Johnson handing off to walk-on Damian Lewis.

"This time of year you have got to deal with injuries," Malzahn said Wednesday. “Every team deals with it in different ways. We've had quite a few, but it's just got to be next man up mentality. That's the way we're approaching it."

It’s a philosophy Auburn is pushing to the limit this week with up to six offensive starters on the shelf.

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra