Dallas, Tex.--The 2006 season didn't go according to plan for Kenny Irons. Entering the season with his name being whispered in Heisman Trophy circles, injuries derailed those hopes and the senior tailback has rushed for 472 yards less this season than he did as a junior.
Irons rushed for a season-high 183 yards on opening night against Washington State, but strained his left groin and hasn't been the same since. He followed that injury with a sprained left ankle against Mississippi State, a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder and turf toe to his right big toe against LSU, then a high ankle sprain and bruised right fibula mid-season against Florida.
"I'm still going to be able to run it and take the 30-carry load that coach (Al) Borges keeps talking about it," Irons says of the Cotton Bowl. "I'm ready to play and ready to run.
"I'm limited to what cuts I can make," he adds, "but I'm going to go out there and do my best to run the ball as hard I can and run the best of my ability."
"I tried to call him but he got his number changed," Irons explains. "Every time we break it down we say, ‘Break it down on Brad Lester.' Brad Lester on three. ‘One, two, three, Brad Lester.' The rest of the team thinks it's funny but we do it in memory of Brad.
"It's different not having Brad here because he's comic relief for us when things are going wrong," he adds. "Plus we only have two running backs--really just two because Carl and Tre run a lot of F (tailback/fullback hybrid position)."
"The linebackers can break it down for them," Irons says. "Their situation... I don't know. They need Jesus. They don't need a break down, they need a prayer."
Kenny Irons had 13 rushing touchdowns as a junior but celebrated his fourth of the 2006 season against Alabama.
It's been overstated how much Auburn wants to have a good showing in the Cotton Bowl after last year's disastrous performance in the 24-10 loss to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl a season ago. Irons says all of the talk about avoiding a repeat performance has actually translated into focus on and off the field as the Tigers prepare for their New Year's Day bowl game.
"I think guys are more into the game mentally seeing how big of an embarrassment it was last year. We went out there and got slaughtered. Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall) always reminds us we're only as good as our last game. Apparently our last bowl game we weren't very good. Coming into this game we wanted to make a difference that the Auburn team that played in the bowl game last year is not the same Auburn that is going to play this year.
"Curfew is 2 a.m.," Irons continues. "A lot of guys don't even want to go out. Some guys want to go site seeing and enjoying the town and hanging out, but a lot of guys are not going out because their mind is set on the game mentally and physically. It plays the part to go out and party and all of that stuff. Your body gets drained and it takes a while to catch up. We've got guys who don't want to go out and we've got guys who stay in the hospitality room all day playing video games."