ATLANTA — Though Auburn football is walking into a relatively new Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the SEC Championship on Saturday, some things remain the same.
As has been the case before, Gus Malzahn is walking into yet another huge game with “a banged up” star player. Still, the head coach maintains that this season, for several reasons, “is different”than seasons past.
Malzahn doesn’t see Auburn’s offense stalling if injured running back Kerryon Johnson (shoulder) can’t play on Saturday — even with running back Kamryn Pettway (scapula) sidelined, too.
“This team is different. I think everybody sees it,” Malzahn said. “Any time you’ve got one of the best players in all of college football and you’re not for sure if he’s going to play, as a coach, it concerns you. But our team, I think we got depth. I really think that, if he can’t go, our guys will rise to the occasion.”
When Auburn faced Georgia in Athens in 2016, the Tigers failed to notch more than ten total first downs and finished the day with 164 yards of total offense. One touchdown score would have earned Malzahn a win in the second half, but his team couldn’t muster it.
It was a similar story when Auburn traveled to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama weeks later. All of the Tigers’ points came from senior kicker Daniel Carlson, who made 4-of-5 field goal attempts in Bryant-Denny.
Johnson has carried the bulk of the load for the Tigers as Pettway has dealt with a range of injuries since August, racking up 250 carries (1276 yards). Auburn’s sophomore backups Kam Martin and Malik Miller have totaled 96 attempts between them. Still, Malzahn is confident about his players ability to put points on the board.
“Malik and Kam Martin has gotten a lot of reps in practice probably the last five weeks. They’ve gotten a lot of reps in fall camp,” Malzahn said. “We’re very confident in both those guys. Devan Barrett is a guy you could see on the field too. If KJ can’t go, we’ll do it by committee, but we’ve got confidence in all those guys.”
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is also sure that Malzahn’s Auburn team can navigate its way into the end zone. He’s made sure his team has prepared for a rushing attack no matter which Tigers players are on the field.
“I’ve made a big effort to not let that be the focal point because they have a physical offensive line,” Kirby Smart said. “They’ve got a really good quarterback. They’ve got speed at wideout. They’ve got other running backs, and they have receivers they use like running backs. So they’re going to find a way. Gus has always found a way to run the ball some kind of way.”
The post Why Gus Malzahn thinks Auburn’s offense won’t stall with or without RB Kerryon Johnson appeared first on SEC Country.
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