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Soft-spoken Peyton Barber emerging as Auburn offense’s go-to-guy

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Peyton Barber (25) dives into the endzone for the game-winning touchdown during overtime. Jacksonville State vs Auburn in Auburn, Ala. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics
Peyton Barber (25) dives into the endzone for the game-winning touchdown during overtime. Jacksonville State vs Auburn in Auburn, Ala. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics

Running back Peyton Barber quietly answered questions from reporters at the podium Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium’s media room.

The soft-spoken sophomore wore a blue Tigers’ football shirt with the slogan ‘Count on Me’ emblazoned across the front.

After his season-saving performance in front of 87,451 fans, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate outfit for the 5-foot-11, 225-pounder. 

In two short weeks, Barber has gone from being a diamond in the rough on the Tigers’ bench to a breakout star.

His performance against Louisville earned him his first career start in Auburn’s 27-20 win over Jacksonville St., and he emerged as the Tigers’ knight in shining burnt orange armor once again.

“He’s had two back-to-back weeks, and it’s all about production,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He’s protecting the ball. A lot of those were hard yards at the end.”

Barber carried the ball nine times in the fourth quarter, and overtime for 72 of his 125 yards. On the season, he is averaging 5.65 yard per carry after the third quarter.

He scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime on a 3-yard run that he set up himself with a 9-yard catch on a swing pass.

On a catch that Malzahn called an “unbelievable” play, Barber made a 360-degree spin move, and broke three tackles to get to the first down.

Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson said Barber came to the huddle before the play with a simple message -- “throw it to me now.”

It wasn’t confidence pushing Barber to call for the ball, it was his attention to detail. He had watched Jacksonville St.’s defense struggle to cover the route, and knew it was time to take advantage.

“It had been open the whole game, the check down,” Barber said. “I was happy Jeremy had the confidence in me to throw it my way.”

Going into the season, Malzahn planned on splitting carries between Barber, Roc Thomas, Jovon Robinson and Kerryon Johnson, but Barber has changed that equation. He’s accounted for 240 yards on the ground while the other three backs have combined for 73 yards.

As the offense has turned the ball over six times this season, Barber’s steady performance is one of the reasons Auburn is sitting at 2-0.

“I have always felt overlooked,” Barber said. “I just knew if I was going to get a shot, I was going to take it.”

With each standout performance, Barber is getting more comfortable in his increased role.

Barber admits his soft-spoken demeanor carries over to the locker room, but the underclassman plans on delivering a message to his teammates this week.

“We have to keep our poise,” Barber said. “It’s the number one thing going forward.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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