Athens, Ga.--Leading the SEC in rushing and coming off a fourth-straight game over 150 yards, sophomore running back Kamryn Pettway did not practice on Tuesday for the Auburn Tigers, Coach Gus Malzahn said. That doesn’t mean he won’t be available against the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday however with his status being evaluated throughout the week.
“We’ll see today,” Malzahn of Pettway’s status. “He’s healing. We’ll see.”
That could be tough to get him ready for Saturday if he’s unable to practice this week, but Malzahn said his experience in the offense and the reps he’s had throughout the season should allow him to play if he’s physically ready to go.
“Earlier in the year, especially being inexperienced, it would have been a challenge,” he said. “This time of the year, when you’ve got as many reps in practice and game reps, it’s not a problem.”
Even though the overall record hasn’t been what they expected, the Georgia Bulldogs have been able to perform solid on defense and especially against the run. Coach Kirby Smart’s group is allowing just 118.2 yards on the ground this season and 3.4 yards per carry, something that will get tested in a big way this weekend against the Auburn Tigers.
One of the top rushing teams in the country, Auburn is averaging 299.8 yards per game with 25 rushing touchdowns. Leading the way is Pettway, but he’s questionable heading into Saturday because of a sore quad muscle.
Even if he’s unable to go the Tigers have Kerryon Johnson ready to pick up the slack. Rushing for 616 yards this season on 125 carries with nine touchdowns, the sophomore has shown the ability to run the ball and be physical as well. Smart said no matter who they see on Saturday the one thing they’ll have to do is tackle well.
“The first thing is the pace of play,” Smart said of what makes Auburn’s running game tough to step. “Then it’s the back. The back is really physical. He’s a big downhill runner and breaks a lot of tackles. I’ve always said throughout the year I feel like defenses slip in tackling because people hit less and less as the year goes on and people are injured and dinged up.
“They are exposing people and just running downhill at them,” he added. “Pettway does a great job of doing that and Kerryon runs really hard. They’ve always had backs that run really hard, but they give them the opportunity to do it through the structure of the offense because the tempo plays are a lot of times run plays. They just run downhill at you.”
So far this season that has been something Georgia has handled very well on defense. The most yards the Bulldogs have given up on the ground came last weekend when Kentucky ran for 186 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-24 Georgia win. Three times this season they have held the opponent to less than 100 yards rushing with South Carolina managing just 30 yards on 26 carries.
“You can see they’ve improved,” Malzahn said of the Georgia defensive front. “Anytime you’ve got a new defense and young guys they are going to get better. You’ve seen this group do that. They’ve continued to improve.”
On the other side Georgia has a pair of big-time backs of their own with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combining for over 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns this year. Averaging 178.3 yards per game on the ground themselves, the Bulldogs want to run the ball and be physical as well but Smart said that won’t be easy against a very physical Auburn defense.
“Their defense is big, they are fast, they’ve got one of the best corners in college football,” Smart said. “They’ve got good, fast linebackers. Their defensive front is really good. They’ve done a good job of recruiting in that aspect and they’re very deep.
“They’ve got a lot of good players on defense. The challenge for us is to find ways to get positive run game. We’ve got to be able to run to set up the throw-game. They’re good at stopping it, they know what they’re doing.”
Giving up 125.9 rushing yards per contest, the Tigers allowed 231 yards to Texas A&M and 220 to LSU but since that time things have changed in a big way. In the last five games Auburn has allowed a total of just 471 yards on 146 carries with no touchdowns. The last rushing touchdown the Tigers allowed came to Texas A&M and it’s one of just four on the season.