AUBURN, Ala. — The Auburn offense looked like its old self for at least one game.
The quarterbacks were running for nice gains, the tailbacks were churning out yards and all that rushing success translated to big numbers on the scoreboard. That performance in a 51-14 romp over Arkansas State resurrected the formula that’s generated the most success for past Gus Malzahn offenses.
Of course, it remains to be seen if Auburn can keep it up against stiffer defenses, starting Saturday night against No. 17 Texas A&M.
Auburn ran for 462 yards against the Sun Belt Conference team, fourth-most in school history. More importantly for the Tigers might have been how some of those yards were generated.
Quarterback Sean White and backup John Franklin III combined for 130 yards on the ground. White’s 60 yards nearly doubled his 2015 total, giving opposing defenses something else to watch out for.
“I thought that was a big factor that he had some rushing yards,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “We talked about that in the offseason, that we’re at our best when our quarterback is a running threat. The fact that he had 60 yards rushing, I thought that was very good and that will help us moving forward. That’s kind of got to be the mindset.”
Franklin, a junior college transfer, is a speedy threat as a runner but has only attempted one pass. White’s running ability hasn’t been on display all that much, but he’s hoping to change that.
“The defense definitely has to respect me running and it’s something I feel like I haven’t been able to show,” he said. “I showed it a little bit this game and I think that’s something I have to do all year.”
Forcing a defense to be wary of him taking off running can help create more running room for the tailbacks.
Kerryon Johnson (124 yards) and Kamry Petway (152), who didn’t have a carry in the opener against No. 2 Clemson, both had big games.
The performance was a big turnaround from the opener with Clemson, when Auburn was held to 87 yards on the ground. It remains to be seen which game will be closer to the norm.
Malzahn has thrived with running quarterbacks like Cam Newton (when the Tigers’ coach was offensive coordinator) and Nick Marshall. The Tigers became the first Southeastern Conference team to lead the nation in rushing behind Tre Mason and Marshall in 2013. That team won the league title and made the national championship game.
Since then, Auburn’s ground game fell to 13th and then 35th nationally, and the win totals decreased along with it.
Thanks to the big game against Arkansas State, the Tigers moved back to the top of the league in rushing.
They still haven’t done it against a Power 5 team. Johnson has had two solid games and totaled 218 yards and three touchdowns after moving into the starting job with the defection of three other tailbacks.
The 6-foot, 240-pound Pettway didn’t have a carry last season or in the first game. He converted from fullback in the spring and had a 64-yard ramble among his 15 carries against Arkansas State.
“I just knew I was going to like running the ball again,” Pettway said.
Ditto for the Tigers.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org