Expect Auburn’s run game to flourish again versus Ole Miss

Since starting out the season 1-2, the Auburn Tigers have gone on a tear, mostly against SEC teams. Auburn is 4-0 since its loss to Texas A&M back in mid-September, and the Tigers head into this weekend’s clash with Ole Miss as one of the hottest teams in the nation.

A lot of that has to do with an offense that’s second in the SEC in total yardage, putting up 501.0 yards per game, and first in the SEC in rushing offense, putting up 302.86 yards per game on the ground.

Auburn’s running attack has been elite over the past few weekends, and it’s one of the main reasons that the Tigers should be considered a threat to leap-frog Texas A&M and even No. 1 Alabama in the SEC West standings when all is said and done. Of course, that kind of overtaking requires that Auburn keeps winning, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier after the game at Ole Miss.

The Tigers do have a matchup against Alabama A&M left on the schedule, but they also must play a scrappy Vanderbilt team, a talented Georgia team in Athens, and Alabama in the Iron Bowl to end the season. It won’t be easy, but as long as Auburn keeps doing what it does best – which is running the football on offense – the Tigers will have a shot to make some big noise at the end of the season against the Crimson Tide.

But that’s all in the future.

Ole Miss may be on a two-game losing streak – both losses coming against ranked SEC opponents – but that actually makes the Rebels more dangerous. This is one of their last chances to really make an impact and get back on track this season, and the game is in Oxford. The Tigers can’t overlook the Rebels.

Auburn has only played one game on the road so far this season – a 38-14 win over Mississippi State — so its high-powered rushing attack will have to wear down both Mississippi’s defense and the home crowd. If there’s any good news in that scenario, it’s that Ole Miss is definitely struggling to stop the run. The Rebels are actually ranked last in the SEC in rushing defense, giving up a painful 226.86 yards per game on the ground. They’ve also allowed 17 rushing touchdowns so far this season, which is the second-worst mark in the SEC – behind Arkansas.

Expect a heavy dose of both Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, Auburn’s one-two sophomore punch in the backfield, and arguably one of the best backfields, if not the best backfield, in college football.

So far this season, Pettway leads the way for Auburn with 697 yards and six touchdowns on 118 carries. He’s averaging an efficient 5.91 yards per carry and 116.17 yards per game.

Johnson isn’t that far behind him, stats made even more impressive by the fact that he’s been limited. On 105 rushing attempts, Johnson has notched 538 yards and six touchdowns of his own. He’s averaging 5.12 yards per carry and 89.67 yards per game, an average that would be impressive if not overshadowed by Pettway’s even more impressive amount.

In fact, Pettway has been so good this season that he’s ranked No. 12 nationally in total rushing. In the SEC, his ranking is even more impressive, as he’s ranked as the conference’s top back. Johnson isn’t all that far behind his teammate, ranked as the No. 6 running back in the SEC in rushing offense, which again illuminates just how good Auburn’s rushing attack has been this season.

In the past four wins, Auburn has rushed for 154, 410, 228 and 543 yards respectively. Pettway led the way for Auburn against Arkansas with 192 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. Johnson didn’t play against the Razorbacks as he’s been slowed up by an injury a bit, but reports coming out of The Plains are that he’s close to 100 percent and is expected to play against the Rebels.

An Auburn rushing attack at full strength against an Ole Miss defense that has struggled to stop the run? That could spell bad news for the Rebels, and great news for fans of Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s rushing attack.

One of those fans, probably because he’s spent so much time in the past week thinking about Auburn’s backfield and running game, is Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze. Here’s what he said about the Tigers, via Auburn football’s website:

“I think it’s just getting back to who Gus has always been,” Freeze says. “Gus taught Rhett, and Rhett is doing a phenomenal job of calling the game now. They remind me of the Tre Mason days now where they’re just so committed to what they do and who they are. I think they’ve gotten back to their identity, and they’re committed to it. It’s the same stuff that I’ve seen from Gus over his years, and now Rhett is just carrying it on.”

It sounds like even Freeze may be expecting another big game out of Auburn’s rushing attack, and he likely won’t be wrong.

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