Kerryon Johnson (above) scored Auburn's only touchdown.
Auburn, Ala.-- At halftime of Auburn's 19-13 football defeat to the No. 2 ranked Clemson Tigers on Saturday night, Coach Gus Malzahn’s offense had only one total rushing yard as a team and the struggles of last season’s offensive attack were collectively rearing their ugly heads
Starting tailback Kerryon Johnson had just 10 yards on five carries. Although listed as the starting tailback, it was wide receiver Stanton Truitt who was on the field in that position for the first series of the game including getting two carries.
“As a competitor it’s frustrating (to have so many offensive issues),” said Johnson about the team’s inability to run the ball in the first half. “I knew going in I wasn’t going to have many touches in the first quarter (two carries for five yards). I just had to make up for it (in the second half.)”
However, in the second half Auburn got its ground game going by allowing Johnson to get in a rhythm with more consistent play packages and a faster tempo, and the sophomore out of Madison Academy rattled off 18 attempts for 84 yards and a late touchdown to bring his season opener totals to 23 carries for 94 yards and a TD.
“We got a feel for them,” Johnson said on why the team had more success later on. “Kudos to them. They did a lot of different things up front. They did a lot of twists, gains, and that takes a while to figure out. Once we did I felt like we got rolling.”
Auburn’s three quarterback rotation was something that the team “prepared for in practice” according to Johnson, and he felt the QB roulette plan would have worked if the offensive “could’ve executed better,” he said.
“Regardless, week in and week out whether we play one quarterback or two, three, four, five, all the quarterbacks are going to rotate,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to go fast. It’s different to try and get a guy in there and get a guy out. That might slow you down a little bit, but we did it tonight and we did it pretty well.”
Once Johnson and company did start rolling the offense looked somewhat like the Tigers of older Malzahn teams with a quick tempo and a downhill running game.
“It felt really good (getting into a rhythm),” Johnson remarked. “The fans start to get behind you. The O-line starts to talk. The QB starts to get in a rhythm. The sideline gets in a rhythm. That’s my first time running the ball that many times here (at Jordan-Hare) and it felt really good to just be a running back again.”
In the middle of the third quarter Johnson thought he had made a big third down conversion to set up the Tigers with first and goal at the one-yard line following a 25-yard diving catch on a Sean White pass. After a booth review the call was overturned to an incomplete pass.
“I thought I had it,” Johnson stated. “I really did. The replay, well, I’m no ref so I don’t know what I’m looking at, but obviously I’m going to think that I caught it. They made a call. We’ve still got to come out the next play and find another way to get in the end zone. There’s nothing I could do about it.”
The play that ended up resulting in Auburn’s only TD of the game and its first of the season was a wildcat run off right tackle by Johnson from nine yards out. Johnson was the fifth Tiger to take a snap in the contest after quarterbacks Sean White, Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III as well as H-back Chandler Cox.
“I kind of figured it might arise one or two times,” said Johnson about his wildcat package being utilized. “Whatever we needed to do to get in the end zone we’ve got to do it.”