AUBURN, Ala. — The last time Auburn football played Clemson, the eventual SEC leader in rushing yards per game had as many carries as any of the 87,451 fans in the stands at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The former fullback was one game away from making his debut as a full-time running back. But as the Auburn offense sputtered in a 19-13 loss to the eventual national champions, Kamryn Pettway watched from the sideline. He didn’t get a single touch.
A lot has been made of the differences between Auburn’s offense from the 2016 season opener and the one it will take to Death Valley on Saturday night for its rematch against Clemson. There’s a new starting quarterback in Jarrett Stidham, who was in Texas last year running the scout team for a high school. First-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey was at Arizona State.
But Stidham and Lindsey made as much statistical impact on the 2016 Auburn-Clemson matchup as Pettway did. They were several states away, unaware they would be at Auburn a year later. Pettway, however, was in uniform inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. He played a couple of forgettable snaps at H-back.
With the uncertainty that surrounds Stidham and Lindsey — who are both one game into their Auburn careers — it’s foolish to overlook Pettway getting his first crack at Clemson on Saturday night.
It’s a chance at redemption for Pettway, who rushed for 120-plus yards in each of Auburn’s next two games after the loss to Clemson last September. Three weeks later, he began a streak in which he compiled 770 rushing yards in four SEC games. Clemson’s fearsome defensive front never faced that running back.
That sense of redemption will matter even more after what happened to Pettway in Week 1. For the second year in a row, Pettway didn’t get a carry in the season opener. This time, though, it was due to a suspension — one that he’ll return from with sophomore receiver Kyle Davis this weekend.
Now the 240-pound running back who prides himself on making sure “nobody really wants to tackle” him will have more motivation against No. 3 Clemson.
It’ll be a chance at redemption for Gus Malzahn and his coaching staff, too. Malzahn went for some “wrinkles” that were more confusing than surprising against Dabo Swinney’s Clemson team last fall.
The most notable wrinkle came at quarterback, where Malzahn used all three of his scholarship players there — sometimes on the same drive. But the head-scratching decisions in the running game shouldn’t be forgotten, either.
Fullback Chandler Cox, converted wide receiver Stanton Truitt and defensive back Rudy Ford each got work at running back in the 19-13 loss to Clemson. Pettway, again, did not.
That won’t be an issue this time around for Malzahn. Even though Lindsey is new to the team, he knows how effective Pettway can be behind Auburn’s strong offensive line. In what should be a physical matchup, Pettway’s presence is a big boost for an Auburn offense that was bland by design in Week 1.
Knowing how Pettway felt about missing opportunities to play last year due to injury — and considering how he’s already missed one game in 2017 — there might not be a more determined player on the Auburn offense.