Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn running back situation should be improved as the Tigers close the regular season with a road trip to Alabama on Saturday.
Coach Gus Malzahn said on Tuesday that the SEC’s top rusher, Kamryn Pettway, has been cleared to play this week after missing the previous two contests with a strained quadriceps.
Pettway has rushed for 1,106 yards at 6.4 yards per carry and has scored seven touchdowns.
A key blocker for the running game, sophomore fullback/H-back Chandler Cox, is also scheduled to see action vs. the No. 1 ranked Tide. Cox did not play in Auburn’s 55-0 victory over Alabama A&M last week after injuring a kneecap vs. Georgia.
Another running back who was injured in the Georgia game, Stanton Truitt, is practicing this week, but his availability for the Alabama game is still uncertain, according to Malzahn. Truitt injured his ankle on his first carry vs. Georgia.
More good news on the running back front is that sophomore Kerryon Johnson noted on Tuesday that he is closer to full speed than he has been since the first month of the season when he suffered a high ankle sprain.
Johnson only ran the ball in the first half last week. His backup for the Alabama A&M game, freshman Kameron Martin, rushed for 176 yards.
Johnson is Auburn’s second-leading rusher with 823 yards at 5.0 yards per carry and he has rushed for 11 touchdowns. He also has 16 catches for 120 yards.
Chandler Cox (27) is a sophomore who can play fullback, H-back and tailback.
Commenting on getting Cox back as a blocker, Johnson said, “That’s huge. Chandler this year has been very physical, very good at the three-back the whole year. This is his second year getting all that experience underneath his belt.
“He’s learning just like we are, " Johnson added. “I think you get that kind of knowledge, that kind of competitiveness, he’s a great leader as well in a big like this where you never know what could happen I think it will be very good to get him back.”
Malzahn noted that No. 1 quarterback Sean White was able to participate in Monday's practice, but added, "We're still not ready to name a starter. I want to make sure and go through practice (Tuesday) and tomorrow before we make a call on who will lead us out from the quarterback position, but overall,I really like where our team's at. They're really looking forward to playing this game and I'm looking forward to watching them."
Asked if White was able to throw the football in Monday's practice, Malzahn said, "He did some. We didn't do a whole lot, but he did some."
Jeremy Johnson started at quarterback last Saturday and in the second half John Franklin played the position with Tyler Queen finishing the game at the position.
White missed last week's game with a shoulder injury and was limited with his passing in the previous game vs. Georgia.
On Sunday the team’s defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele, noted the Tigers should be in good shape health-wise for the regular season finale. Malzahn said on Tuesday that it looks promising on that side of the line of scrimmage.
Linebacker Tre Williams, who sat out last week, is ready to play. The same is true of two Tigers who were hurt last Saturday night--linebacker Darrell Williams and cornerback Josh Holsey.
Willliams, a junior, noted it is important for the Tigers to have their leading rusher back in the mix. “Pettway can open a lot of things for our offense because a lot of people are so worried about Kamryn Pettway,” he said. “The way he runs is fierce. When he grabs that handoff you better know that you better buckle your chinstrap because he’s coming with a full head of steam.
“That’s something we speak on as a defense as well,” Williams added. “Whenever we see Pettway run we’re like ‘they in trouble.’ It’s really important. We also have a lot of good other running backs in Kerryon and Truitt, and even Kameron Martin. They run differently, but Pettway is just that bruiser. He’s really the enforcer of the offense.”
Malzahn said it is a big deal to have Pettway back on the field. "He's one of our impact players. He's one of the best running backs in all of college football and one of the best in our league. Any time you have a guy like that back, it changes things. It changes things in a good way for us."