Running Game Looking To Key Turnaround

Auburn's running game is the strength of the offense in 2013 behind a trio of backs capable of putting up big numbers.

Auburn, Ala.--In Auburn's illustrious history on the football field there have been 60 players to rush for 100 yards in a game and three of those happen to be playing football for the Tigers in 2013.

Junior Tre Mason ran for 1,002 yards last season and was a known commodity heading into Gus Malzahn's first season as head coach, but the emergence of fellow junior Corey Grant and junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne has given the offense a big boost two games into the new season.

"Running back is definitely one of our strengths of our offense," Malzahn said. "They're all three different. We can utilize them in different ways. So far they've all three been very solid."

A physical runner between the tackles who also has the ability to break the long run, Mason has carried the ball 29 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns this season. A powerful back, Artis-Payne has 29 carries for 154 yards and a score. A speed back who can run through tackles, Grant has 186 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries.

Forced to carry the load last season for an Auburn offense that struggled to move the ball on the ground or via the pass, Mason is a big fan of the new weapons around him in the running game. Helping the Tigers to 596 yards and five touchdowns in just two games, a third of Auburn's total in both categories last year, the trio is determined to put the program back on the map.

"We're just looking forward to having a big season," Mason said. "We know this is a run-based offense so it's going to take all of us to get through the year. I know that we're all pretty good at what we do. We're looking forward to using all three of us and our threats against everyone.

"Corey is possibly one of the fastest players on the team," he added. "He has the speed to get around the edge and once he does he's pretty much gone. Cam is going to pound the rock and he runs really hard. That's just good to have. It's going to wear down some defenses."

Things could get much tougher beginning this weekend for the trio as Mississippi State comes to town with a defense that is usually physical up front. While the Tigers may not reach their average of 298 yards per game on the ground against the Bulldogs, Artis-Payne said the goals never change under Malzahn and this staff and that's a great thing.

"Yeah, but that's what it takes to be the best," Artis-Payne said. "You can't just be satisfied with mediocre play by anybody on any certain play. We're aiming to be the best and that's what Coach Malzahn wants from us. We're aiming for perfection at this point."

Perfection is something rarely obtained in the game of football. Even in 2010 when the Auburn Tigers won every game they weren't perfect on the field each and every day. On the flip side you find the 2013 version of the Tigers. Trying to break a 10-game losing streak in SEC play and begin to regain respect back from people outside of the program, Mason said everything is pointing forward and there's no looking back.

"It's a new day," Mason said. "We're trying to have the biggest turnaround in college football. We're not really thinking about last year because it's a new day. We're looking forward to this year. We have to take care of this year."

Auburn will face 1-1 Mississippi State at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The game is being televised ESPN2.

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