Running Back By Committee

Auburn played four tailbacks early against Mississippi State in an easy win.

Auburn, Ala.–-Four plays and four different tailbacks. That's the way the Auburn Tigers started the game Saturday and it was a sign of things to come on the day as the four combined to carry the ball 36 times for 107 yards in a 28-0 victory over Mississippi State. Running backs coach Eddie Gran said that he decided this week he wanted to get all four backs in the game as soon as possible.

"I didn't want to go into this game and not get them in there," Gran said. "I wanted to make sure they all got a taste of it early. Brad (Brad Lester), especially because it was his first one really because I didn't play him that first game. Kenny (Kenny Irons), he got really into the mix of the rotation because he had a good week of practice. Tre (Tre Smith) dinged himself up, I guess it was somewhere down in the second or third quarter. It was something with his knee, but it dinged him up enough that we didn't need to keep pushing him by having him go."

Giving the three mentioned and also Carl Stewart a chance to get involved in the game early, Gran's move got the offense started strong as the Tigers moved the ball well in the first half both on the ground and through the air. While the passing game was open all day, particularly over the middle to the tight ends, Gran said there is little doubt that Auburn emphasized the running game against Mississippi State.

"I don't think there is any question," Gran said. "I think, in this league you have got to run the football to be successful and that is coach' philosophy and it always has been. You have got to stop the run and you have got to run the ball, so there is no question an emphasis to run the ball today. Also, you look at Brandon (Brandon Cox). I don't know what he was percentage-wise, but usually when you get a chance and you run the football that is how you get real good easy completions."

Brad Lester dives into the endzone for Auburn's only rushing touchdown of the game.

Trying to run the football and doing it are two different things as Auburn found out on Saturday. With Mississippi State stacking the line of scrimmage, the Tigers continued to try to run the football to no avail. The leading rusher on the day was sophomore Carl Stewart, who had nine carries for 38 yards, an average of 4.2 yards per rush. Stewart said that while the running game wasn't hitting on all cylinders, he felt like the offense got better as a whole in game number two.

"It felt really good," Stewart said. "We needed a big improvement from last week and we just had to come out and show what we had. We were very disappointed in ourselves and we just kind of took that on our shoulders, the loss last week. So coming out this week and getting a little bit more production felt good."

With Stewart playing the role of the bruiser, the speed came from the legs of Brad Lester and Kenny Irons. A redshirt freshman, Lester ran the ball six times for 34 yards and one touchdown on a 22-yard scamper. Irons carried the ball 13 times for 35 yards, but added a 23-yard reception out of the backfield on the game's opening drive. Gran said that Lester's play really showed him something and he's likely going to get more playing time as the season progresses.

"Brad is at full speed," Gran said. "I was excited about his week of practice, too, understanding the offense the way he was. If you look at his--he was coming up through fall camp and he was making some really good strides and he had a good first scrimmage. Then, he got hurt and that set him back a little bit, but I think he is back up where he is supposed to be and he is going to make a challenge."

After unveiling the running back rotation Saturday Gran said that he's pretty confident things will remain the same until a player or two emerges from the group. Lester said that he especially liked the way the backs were used and thinks it could work to Auburn's advantage in games later in the season.

"I feel like we have a lot of work to do, but we were talking about it in the locker room and we love the rotation because it keeps everybody fresh because we all do special teams too," Lester said. "I thought some of the other players might be upset about the rotation, but everybody is happy about it because everybody is getting fresh and everybody is getting carries and going in blocking and protecting. I think we are going to get a lot better over the season and a lot of teams are going to have a hard time with us."


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