No one was happier about Kamryn Pettway’s decision to delay a potential NFL career than his running mate in Auburn’s backfield.
Pettway’s departure might have created additional opportunities for Kerryon Johnson, but Johnson isn’t fretting over a few missed carries.
“I was extremely happy,” Johnson said. “I don’t really pay attention to recruiting, but I don’t think we have a lot of guys coming in at the running back position, so just to have the experience back and not really start over as we did this past year, it’s tremendous.”
Auburn had to hit the reset button in the backfield for the fall when a series of surprise departures (Jovon Robinson, Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber) left the coaches scrambling for answers.
Pettway emerged as one of the best running backs in the SEC in a co-starting role with Johnson, who once again proved he’s one of the most versatile players in the conference.
As productive as they were — Pettway has 1,137 rushing yards and Johnson leads the team with 1,217 all-purpose yards — injuries prevented the duo from reaching their full potential.
The last time Pettway and Johnson were fully healthy at the same time was Sept. 24 against LSU.
Pettway missed two of Auburn’s final three games with a quad injury, while Johnson battled an ankle injury for more than a month and a half.
“If we have a full healthy season, I can’t think of what we’ll be able to do,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be hard to beat him and me as a one-two punch in the SEC and the country. Fully healthy, it’s scary to think about.”
They might be giving Oklahoma’s defensive coaching staff nightmares already.
Pettway and Johnson healed up for the Sugar Bowl during an extended period of time off following the Iron Bowl.
When Auburn returned to the practice field last week for the first of eight practices on campus, Pettway and Johnson were in top form.
“It almost feels like a new team,” Johnson said. “We were kind of drained out, and now it’s like we have new guys in there really. When you operate at 100 percent, your explosion is better, everything is better.”
Pettway feels the same way.
“It’s a different vibe,” Pettway said. “Everybody is happy, flying around, excited and energized about this bowl game.”
It’s motivation Johnson sees carrying over to the Superdome.
While some college players have made headlines recently for choosing to sit out bowl season, Auburn’s locker room views the Sugar Bowl as a must-win game.
“We go from the Birmingham Bowl last year to the Sugar Bowl this year,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot riding on this game for us. It’s about motivation. We just have to be motivated to go out there and win because we know they’re going to want to. We just have to go out and prove ourselves.”