Running Game A Focus For AU's Opener

Auburn's ability to run the football will be a big key for the Tigers in the season opener against Washington State.

Auburn, Ala.--With 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason back and junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne ready to lead the offense with fellow junior Corey Grant in reserve, the Auburn Tigers are expected to lean heavily on the running game Saturday night in the season opener against Washington State.

When you consider that the Tigers will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, junior college transfer Nick Marshall, it makes even more sense that Auburn's offense will be built around running the football in week one.

Under the guidance of position coach Tim Horton, Auburn's duo of Mason and Artis-Payne will be lining up against a Washington State defense that had its share of problems last season stopping the opponent on the ground.

In 12 games the Cougars allowed 163,2 rushing yards per contest and 21 total touchdowns. Only three times did WSU hold the opponent under 100 yards, but two of those came in the final three games of the season against UCLA and rival Washington.

On the flip side, Coach Mike Leach's defense gave up more than 200 yards four times with two games allowing over 300 yards to Oregon and California.

Corey Grant was the two-time Class 6A state 100-meter champion at Opelika High.

That should mean plenty of action for Auburn's top two runners on Saturday night, but offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said how the carries work out and how they are used will depend on how the game goes.

"It could depend on the package and play," Lashlee said. "We do so much formationally. Shoot, sometimes, it doesn't matter, it can be game eight and your starter doesn't start the first play and it has nothing to do with anything other than what you're running the first play. I feel good about both those guys, as does coach Horton."

One of the fastest players on the Auburn team, Grant was unable to find his role in the offense last season, but with the return of Gus Malzahn's system he's looking for a bigger role in 2013. Able to play multiple spots, Lashlee said they're going to utilize him as much as possible to give the offense some extra dimensions.

"Corey has got a real role for us," Lashlee said. "He's a guy you can move around. He can definitely play true running back as well. Just because those other two guys are a little bit ahead of him in terms of pure running back doesn't mean he will not be in the mix.

"He's very fast, a guy you want to get the ball in space to. He can do a lot of the things in a similar role as a (Onterio) McCalebb type kid. He's been someone from spring to now we're really pleased with."

For much of the preseason the fourth guy in the plans at running back appeared to be true freshman Johnathan Ford, but a move to defense because of injuries on that side of the ball put fellow freshman Peyton Barber squarely in the mix once again. A physical back who is a true downhill runner but also capable of catching the ball out of the backfield, Barber's role is one that could grow as the season goes along, according to Lashlee.

"With Rudy (Ford) going over to defense, Peyton is one that we really enjoyed running in all the scrimmages," Lashlee said. "He's a good football player. Physically, he's ready and he made some nice runs. It's just you want to give those guys reps. You even look at guys we've had in the past that were young running backs, we brought them along slowly. Right now we've got three older guys we feel like are ahead of him, more just because they're juniors and he's a freshman. He's got to get ready. He'll be in the mix. Injuries happen and things like that, he'll have to be ready to go if that happens."

Peyton Barber played at Milton High in Alpharetta, Ga.

Everything gets kicked off at 6 p.m. Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a game televised nationally on ESPNU.


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