Auburn, Ala.--It’s hard to look at Auburn’s 2016 regular season without dividing it up into three different mini-seasons. Struggles early and late surround a red hot middle of the year for the Tigers as they find themselves 8-4 heading into a bowl game, something running back Kerryon Johnson said is hard to really explain.
“There have been very few games where we have been middle ground,” Johnson said. “Either we’ve been really good or we’ve been really bad.
“That makes it pretty frustrating,” he added. “We just have to keep pushing. Consistency is the key. We just have to figure out what we do best and we had to do it. That’s all it is.”
Scoring just 29 points in losses to Clemson and Texas A&M in the first three weeks of the season, Auburn’s offense turned things over to Rhett Lashlee with Sean White at quarterback and things turned around in a hurry.
Over the course of a six-game winning streak the Tigers averaged 30 points per game and 478 yards of offense in wins over LSU, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt even with Johnson banged up against the Bulldogs with a high ankle sprain that lingered the rest of the regular season.
Missing the next game, Johnson returned to play the final five games of the year for the Tigers but the lingering effects of the injury were obvious. Taking out the Alabama A&M game, the sophomore managed just 216 yards on 50 carries in the final four SEC games.
That injury and injuries to White and leading rusher Kamryn Pettway signaled a return to frustration for Auburn’s offense the final three weeks. Scoring just one touchdown in losses to Georgia and Alabama, the Tigers managed just 346 yards of total offense combined in the losses.
Much like the loss in Athens, Saturday’s loss to Alabama was just a tough to swallow said Johnson. Making it even more difficult was that unlike at Georgia the offense had chances to makes some things happen thanks to a long punt return by Stephen Roberts and a pair of interceptions by Daniel Thomas. Settling for field goals wasn’t going to beat Alabama, something Johnson said makes it hurt even more.
“It was tough,” Johnson said. “It was the same story, different game, us not coming through for the defense once again. It is what it is.”
What’s next for this offense remains to be seen. If Johnson, White and Pettway can get back healthy before the bowl game there is no reason the Tigers can’t go out with a bang and earn win number nine.
Considering where the season started and picked to finish sixth in the SEC West in the preseason, that would be a pretty solid season. It’s not what this group or program wants though, and despite a bright future with a lot of young guys playing a key role for the Tigers Johnson said the losses sting and there’s no way to avoid that.
“I’m looking forward to right now,” Johnson said. “I want to win every game we play; today, tomorrow, last week, bowl game. I don’t look forward to the future, I look forward to what we’re doing right now.”