Auburn football: No Pettway, no problem Saturday for Tigers
COLUMBIA, Mo. – He wasn’t 100 percent.
Those were the words Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn used to describe why junior tailback Kamryn Pettway went from 34 carries against FCS opponent Mercer to zero playing time in the Southeastern Conference opener one week later.
Following Auburn’s crushing 51-14 win at Missouri on Saturday night, Malzahn confirmed Pettway, who had started and received the only tailback carries in the previous two games, was scratched from the lineup. Pettway has been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot since the end of preseason practices and Malzahn said he hadn’t been able to shake the pain of that injury in the week of practices leading up to the contest at Missouri.
“It was kind of one of those deals where if (Pettway) wasn’t going to be 100 percent (healthy) then we were going to go with the other guys that were,” Malzahn said. “We’ll see how he feels this week for Mississippi State.”
Through four games into this season, Auburn (3-1, 1-0 SEC) has not played a game where one of the league’s best inside-outside duos of Pettway and Johnson have played together in the same contest.
Pettway came into Saturday night near the top of the SEC in rushing attempts despite missing the season opener due to a one-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Malzahn stated Saturday night’s inactivity by Pettway was not another suspension or anything other than the coaching staff attempting to rest the 240-pound tailback from Montgomery. Unlike announced scratches before kickoff such as linebacker Tre’ Williams and cornerback Javaris Davis, Pettway was fully dressed and participated in pre-game warmups but was ultimately determined to be nothing more than an emergency option in case of multiple injuries.
Malzahn bristled after the victory at questions centering on pushing Pettway in a game against FCS opponent Mercer and ultimately being in a position to sit its most physical runner for a conference opener.
“We’ve already beat that dead horse,” Malzahn said. “We played him last week and thought we had to do that in order to win the game. I’ve answered that three times already.”
Over the previous two games against Clemson and Mercer, Pettway had received 22 and 34 carries, respectively, and Malzahn attempted to down play this past Tuesday the possibility of early season overuse by Auburn’s leading rusher from a season ago.
“He’s an SEC running back,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “When you look back Tre Mason carried it quite a few times. Cameron Artis-Payne carried it quite a few times. That’s just the way it goes. The fact that (Kerryon Johnson) is back will definitely help. You’ll see the other two guys on the field some, too. We’re sensitive to that, not just with (Pettway), but with any kind of player with their volume, if it gets to that point.”
Instead the early-game volume of carries went to Johnson as the junior speedster got 12 of the team’s first 13 carries despite clearly not being completely recovered from a severe hamstring injury suffered in a 41-7 season-opening win over Georgia Southern on Sept. 2. Johnson said he wasn’t aware Pettway was being held out of action Saturday night at Missouri until he was told to take the opening possession of the game. Johnson became the first Auburn player with five touchdowns in a game since Peyton Barber accomplished the feat in a 35-21 win over San Jose State in 2015.
“They kind of keep that (injury) news away from all of us and I think that’s a good thing,” Johnson said. “(Pettway) has had to carry a heavy load the past two weeks and that’s partial my fault for being out. Anytime we can get somebody rest, that has to be a good thing.”
Similarly to the rotation in the opening week game, sophomore Kam Martin found some big plays in the run game and finished with a team-high 74 yards on just nine carries. Martin currently leads Auburn in rushing yards despite not touching the football in either game against Clemson and Mercer. Martin, who hit a 47-yard run on a sweep off the left side to set up a 41-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson. The 182-pound tailback from the hurricane ravaged Port Arthur, Texas is currently averaging 9.13 yards a carry, which is 12th in the nation and leads all rushers in the SEC by exactly a full yard per touch.
“We had confidence in Kam Martin all along but I just think last week we stuck with Pettway,” Malzahn said. “We’ve always talked about having quality depth at the running back position.”