Auburn, Ala.--Combining for 1,985 yards on the ground and 18 rushing touchdowns, the duo of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson did plenty of good things for the Auburn Tigers this season and they will have the chance to do more next year as well with the announcement from Pettway that he is returning for his junior year.
That could be an issue for some running backs because it would potentially cut into their carries, but Johnson said for him the news of Pettway’s return was met with a smile because of what it means for the team.
“I was very happy,” Johnson said. “I was extremely happy. I don't really pay attention to recruiting, but I don't think we have a lot of guys coming in at the running back position.
Just to have the experience back and not really start over as we did this past year, it's tremendous so I was very happy. I'm looking forward to getting it going with him again next year.”
The attitude that Johnson showed when talking about Pettway’s return is something that Coach Gus Malzahn has seen over and over again from this year’s team. Having the next-man-up attitude is something every team needs to be successful and he said that’s what makes this group a memorable one for him.
“I think that’s what makes a team special,” Malzahn said. “You've got a chance to do something special you need your best players. They really like each other. They complement each other. I think it says a lot. I know that doesn’t happen at every team across the country. It’s great that it’s happening here.”
This season Pettway had six 100-yard rushing games while Johnson chipped in with three and had three more games with at least 90 yards. That kind of production was part of the reason why Auburn’s offense at times played at a very high level even though the two of them were only healthy at the same time for a short time.
Kerryon Johnson has one more game in his sophomore season.
Back to full speed once again, both Pettway and Johnson are ready to go for the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma and Malzahn said that’s a big reason why this team is putting in productive work back on the practice field.
“We are a lot better team when they are healthy,” Malzahn said. “I’m excited. You can sense our offense out there practicing the confidence they have. The pieces to the puzzle are healthy and out there practicing. It’s just a different feel. Those two guys have a lot to do with that.”
Facing an Oklahoma team that is allowing 160.75 yards per game this season on the ground and gave up 388 yards to West Virginia, 291 to Ohio State, 217 to Oklahoma State, and 212 to Baylor, Auburn has a chance to finish the season on a positive note running the football. Pettway said it's an opportunity to get things started on the right foot for next year.
“I think this game will be a big momentum game for us going into the 2017 season just to see where we’re at.”
No matter what happens in New Orleans Johnson said he’s excited about what the future holds for Auburn’s running game next year.
“If we have a full healthy season, I can't think of what we'll be able to do,” Johnson said. “It's going to be hard to beat him and me as a 1-2 punch in the SEC and the country. Fully healthy, it's scary to think about.”