Auburn’s John­son on im­pres­sive run

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - WEEKEND BLITZ - BY JOHN ZENOR

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.”

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