The Auburn Tigers are in the middle of a very important offseason. They’ve brought in Chip Lindsey to replace Rhett Lashlee at offensive coordinator, signed a hopeful superstar in top-rated JUCO quarterback Jarrett Stidham, and have returned enough talent from last year’s team to become media favorites to challenge Alabama.

There’s a lot of anticipation buzzing around The Plains, and it all has to do with whether or not Auburn and its passing game are for real.

In all of the questions about Stidham’s stake at Auburn’s starting quarterback spot and Gus Malzahn’s job security, it’s easy to forget that the Tigers return the best backfield in the SEC.

After rushing for a combined 2,119 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016, Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson will headline a very strong returning group of running backs.

Returning Auburn running backs
  Yards TD YPC YPG
Kamryn Pettway, JR 1,224 7 5.9 136
Kerryon Johnson, JR 895 11 4.9 74.6
Kam Martin, SO 320 3 7.3 53.3
Malik Miller, SO 69 1 4.3 34.5

 

A bruising ground attack has always been the backbone of the Tigers’ offense under Malzahn, but even with the promise of more balance under Chip Lindsey’s direction, he’ll most certainly be relying on Auburn’s best one-two punch since Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and Ronnie Brown.

Kamryn Pettway, named to the preseason All-SEC Second Team at the conclusion of SEC Media Days, burst onto the scene last year. In just nine games of action, Pettway led the SEC with 136 rushing yards per game.

With a unique burst for a guy who weighs 235 pounds, Pettway finds the hole and puts his pads down to bowl over defenders.

He is a pure downhill runner, a back who will pick up positive yardage on every carry. Against elite defenses, having a consistent runner like Pettway is imperative.

His counterpart, Kerryon Johnson, is a bit more of an elusive runner. But don’t think Pettway is the only back who can run between the tackles — at a nice 211 pounds, Johnson is perfectly capable of shouldering the load of an every down back.

He has much better breakaway speed and great hands out of the backfield, providing the perfect compliment to Pettway’s bruising runs. In fact, his versatility and athleticism landed him a spot as the all-purpose specialist on the preseason All-SEC Third Team.

Before an injury against Mississippi State kept him from full strength the rest of the year, he was on pace for a 1,200-yard rushing season with 517 yards through his first five games.

Together, the two form a dangerous tandem.

All eyes will be on Jarrett Stidham and the passing game, but the foundation of every great Auburn offense has been the running game.

In 2010 when Auburn won the SEC championship and national championship behind the heroics of Cam Newton, they also led the SEC in rushing with 284.8 yards per game.

In 2013, the Tigers led the nation in rushing with 328.4 yards per game en route to an epic Iron Bowl finish, an SEC championship, and falling 13 seconds short of another national title.

What do these seasons have in common? Stellar quarterback play paired with a dangerous running game.

While it’s true that as the quarterback goes, the offense goes for Auburn, the passing game has to be paired with a potent rushing attack in order for the Tigers to compete at a national level.

Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson are the foundation on which to build the SEC’s most dangerous running game.

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Team Manager for the Auburn Tigers , The Armchair All-Americans LLC
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Team Manager for the Auburn Tigers , The Armchair All-Americans LLC

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