Auburn, Ala.--One of the biggest question marks for the Auburn Tigers heading into the 2014 season was the void left at tailback with the loss of Heisman finalist Tre Mason. Even though Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant were both very good in their respective roles a year ago, many wondered if they could get the job done in a full-time role.
So far that question has been answered with a resounding yes
A physical back that is much more explosive as a senior after losing close to 10 pounds, Artis-Payne has been a dominating force for Auburn’s offense through the first two weeks with 289 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Doing his thing as well, Grant has added 176 yards and a touchdown on just 20 total carries.
They are just part of an Auburn rushing attack that is averaging 330 yards per game and has nine scores on the ground already. Coach Gus Malzahn said while Mason had some particular skills, both of his veterans have shown they can get the job done early this season.
”Tre was such an exceptional between-the-tackles runner, and I think Cameron has those same traits,” Malzahn said. “Cameron has also gotten a little quicker from this time last year. He probably lost anywhere from 5-10 pounds. I really think that has helped him.
”It’s kind of 1 and 1A with Cameron and Corey Grant,” he added. “Corey is doing a good job so far of running between the tackles with some tough yards. We really feel like he’s improved. Then we’ve got the two freshmen (Peyton Barber and Roc Thomas) that we will bring along and we feel like both are very talented.”
While the passing game will continue to get much of the early talk, Auburn continues to grind out yardage on the ground for an offense averaging 52 points per game. That is always going to be a focal point for a Malzahn coached team, but the ability to make plays in the passing game is going to be important for the Tigers beginning with next week’s road trip to Kansas State.
After getting very little live work in the preseason and sitting out the first half of the season opener against Arkansas, quarterback Nick Marshall hasn’t been sharp in Auburn’s first two games, completing just 14-25 passes (56 percent) for 151 yards and a touchdown. While the numbers aren’t what Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee are looking for, the head coach says there is a lot more to that than meets the eye.
”From a coach’s standpoint there were two or three times in the game that wasn’t the quarterback’s fault,” Malzahn said. “From the casual eye it may have looked that way. There was one concept where we put him in a bind, they have the perfect defense for it and he did a good job of throwing it away. We feel very good about where he’s at.
"You have to remember, he’s the guy that led us to the national championship and we came within 13 seconds. We really believe in him and he has gotten better. As the season goes along even the casual eye will be able to see that.”