Jovon Robinson's (above) playing time increased late in the 2015 season.
Last season Peyton Barber became Auburn's seventh consecutive 1,000-yard rusher, the most of any Southeastern Conference team. The streak originated during Gus Malzahn’s first season as Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2009.
The University of North Carolina holds the record for the most consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with 12. Malzahn enters his 11th season at the collegiate level and his offense has now produced 10 consecutive 1,000-yard rushers at the running back position. With Barber's early departure for an opportunity to play in the NFL, Jovon Robinson will have a chance to extend Auburn's current record streak. Robinson closed the 2015 season averaging better than 100 yards per contest during the final six games.
Though Barber proved to be a dependable bruiser between the tackles, Robinson delivered the extra punch needed to field a more vibrant running game. Barber averaged 4.3 yards per rush last season along with a 10-yard run or more every 11.3 attempts. Robinson delivered 5.5 yards per carry and a 10-yard plus run every 6.9 attempts.
Peyton Barber decided to enter the NFL Draft following his redshirt sophomore season.
In comparison, Ben Tate averaged a 10-plus run every 7.9 attempts during 2009 and Michael Dyer averaged one every 7.8 attempts during 2011. Robinson's ratio was slightly less than Tre Mason in 2013 and Cameron Artis-Payne during 2014. Mason and Artis-Payne had a ratio of one every 6.7 attempts. Insert a dual-threat quarterback into the equation and Barber’s rate likely improves.
The most notable difference in Auburn’s 2015 run offense was production on first down. Auburn averaged only 4.57 yards per rush on those plays, which included Barber’s 4.07 yards per carry. Barber accounted for 40 percent of Auburn’s rushing attempts on first down.
Once Robinson was inserted into the lineup, he brought a 5.7 yards average per attempt on first down. During the first seven games of the season, Auburn averaged 4.7 yards per play on first down with Barber the primary rusher. During the final six games of the season with Robinson as the primary rusher, Auburn averaged 6.1 yards on first down. During the last six games of the season, Barber averaged 3.8 yards per rush while Robinson averaged 5.5 yards.
Running backs coach Tim Horton said that having talent runners is key to Auburn’s success with 1000-yard rushers. “Obviously, at Auburn we’ve got that,”?he said. “Where I was before (Arkansas), we had that. That is probably as big a factor as any. Let’s not kid yourself and think you are a guru coach. We have had talent. You can’t win the Kentucky Derby on a donkey.”
Though talent plays a vital role, Horton has primary objectives for his running backs. “You look at three things: how well they have prepared, how well they have practiced and ultimately how well they have performed,” the coach explained. Horton cited Robinson as a prime example of back whose play time increased later in the season as his preparation in practices improved. When Robinson committed himself to making it happen, he earned the privilege of competing on Saturdays.
Robinson will have an excellent opportunity to add to Auburn's rich tradition of running backs. Barber’s NFL future remains to be seen, but running backs who have rushed for 1,000 yards as Auburn Tigers have been given an opportunity to play in the NFL.
Robinson has the physical attributes to have a breakout senior season and to play at the next level, but his focus and commitment cannot waiver. Malzahn's schematic approach to running the football is structured for the primary back to be successful. Over the past decade, Malzahn’s leading rusher at the running back position has averaged 1,361 yards per season, which includes 78 individual 100-yard performances from the position.