Auburn’s Johnson on impressive run
AUBURN, Ala. — Coming into this season, Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson wasn’t the most heralded tailback in the Southeastern Conference — or even on his own team.
He has been the most prolific when healthy, however, despite missing two games and half of another with a right hamstring injury.
Previously overshadowed by teammate Kamryn Pettway and other SEC runners, Johnson has delivered three straight huge performances for No. 10 Auburn (5-1, 3-0) leading up to Saturday’s game at LSU (4-2, 1-1). He has scored 11 of his nation-leading 12 rushing touchdowns during that stretch, which is one more than he produced last season and more than nine SEC teams have managed this year.
“I start thinking, ‘What was I doing last year?’” Johnson said, smiling. “I only had 11 all of last year, so I must have been coasting all the way through last year. I’m just trying to keep it going, do what I can.”
He has taken over with Pettway missing two of the past three games with a lower right leg injury. Pettway was a first-team AllSEC performer last season, but he and Johnson haven’t been healthy in the same game yet.
Pettway and LSU’s Derrius Guice, another talented runner, have both been slowed by injuries this season.
Georgia’s Nick Chubb leads the SEC in rushing, having averaged 103 yards per game with eight touchdowns. Johnson has averaged 126 yards but has only played in four games and isn’t listed among the league’s stat leaders.
Johnson, who often takes direct snaps in the wildcat formation, is coming off a career-high 204yard, three-touchdown performance against Mississippi. Malzahn called the 6-foot, 212-pound Johnson one of Auburn’s toughest players after the win against Ole Miss, when he had 28 carries.
Malzahn and Johnson both said he has been inching closer to completely healthy but that the hamstring hasn’t fully healed.
“You look at the last three weeks, you can tell that he hasn’t been 100 percent,” Malzahn said. “At Missouri he had a couple of chances to really hit some seams and really turn on the gas, but he didn’t want to repull his hamstring, so he kind of geared it down.
“Against Mississippi State, a time or two you saw him break (free) and he kind of geared it down, and then last week when he broke, he was able to turn it loose. You can see he’s getting healthier.”
Guice has been bothered by ankle and knee injuries since preseason practices in August. He missed LSU’s loss to Troy and hasn’t had a 100-yard performance since reaching that mark in each of the first two games.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron said he planned to show Guice one of his runs on the last drive of this past Saturday’s win over Florida “where he ran up right in the middle, and he showed grit and he showed toughness and he showed LSU football, broke a couple of tackles.
It “was a sign that he can do it,” Orgeron said. “And I think it gave him confidence and it gave our whole team confidence.”