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AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn football showed a rare sight on its fourth drive of the game Saturday against Texas A&M — sophomore running back Kam Martin taking early carries.
Martin was an immediate boost to a struggling Auburn offense. He averaged 6 yards on 4 carries on that drive, which ended with the Tigers punching the ball into the end zone for their first points of the game.
“We talked about this in our running back meeting Sunday. Kam, nobody will realize it except for us, but Kam really helped us win that game,” junior running back Kerryon Johnson said Tuesday. “He came in and he gave us a spark that we needed. He got us down the field that led to one of our touchdowns and gave me a break, and that’s what he was supposed to do.”
Martin spelled Johnson later in the fourth quarter, when he took 4 more carries on the Tigers’ methodical 96-yard scoring drive that sealed the 42-27 win against the Aggies. He finished the game with 46 yards on 13 carries — the second-most touches he’s had in a game this season.
“He did a very good job of running the football,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “I thought he ran hard, he protected the football. Yeah, you’ll see him more and more. We have a lot of confidence in Kam, and you’ll see him more and more carrying it.”
Martin’s presence will carry a greater importance this weekend as Auburn hosts undefeated Georgia with a chance to stay in the SEC championship picture (3:30 p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. CT on CBS).
Thanks to continued injury woes for junior running back Kamryn Pettway, Johnson has taken on a huge workload over the last few weeks. Johnson leads the SEC with 23.71 rushing attempts per game, and he’s had at least 28 in three of his last four games.
“Pacing myself isn’t really my job,” Johnson said. “That’s kind of the coaches’ job, if they want me to come out, want to try to preserve me or whatever. I go out there and try to play as hard as I can every play. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Johnson has taken on more of a physical running style this season for the Tigers. According to Pro Football Focus, 113 of his 145 yards against Texas A&M came after contact. Seventeen of his 29 carries came after halftime.
“KJ is one of our best players,” Malzahn said. “You can see the way he plays. He’s a physical runner. He’s a very smart player. He’s been protecting the ball outstanding. That fourth quarter, he willed his way on that last drive. The special ones have that, and he’s definitely in that category of the special running backs that we’ve had here.”
Malzahn said the Tigers are mindful of how many carries they give Johnson. But at this time in the season, Auburn is used to the strategy of riding the hot hand, much like it did with Tre Mason late in the 2013 campaign.
“Saturday, we talked to him at the end of the first quarter, halftime, third quarter, always and he’s one of those young men that’s very honest, and he’ll tell you the truth with how he feels,” Malzahn said. “We did the same thing with Tre Mason, we just communicate with him. It’s really similar.”
The running back rotation between Auburn and Georgia will create an interesting juxtaposition Saturday.
While Johnson averages 23.71 carries per game and Martin averages just 5.11, Georgia gets 15.56 per game for Nick Chubb and 11.25 for Sony Michel. Reserves Brian Herrien, D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield all average at least 4 carries per game.
“Guys at Georgia and Alabama, they split carries and it helps preserve them during the season, but you know, we had a running back go down and things change,” Johnson said. “If one of their running backs go down, I’m sure they’ll have to do the same exact thing. Injuries happen in the game of football, and that’s what happened to us. We just all have to adapt.”
So while Auburn’s confidence in Martin is growing, Johnson is fully prepared to have another heavy workload in one of the Tigers’ biggest games of the season this Saturday.
“I don’t mind it,” Johnson said. “Obviously, hit-wise and number-wise, it’s definitely hard. But as long as I’m still walking, I’ll keep doing it.”
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