Winning is contagious and breeds confidence. Right now, there isn’t a more confident program in the SEC than Auburn football.
Last weekend’s victory at Ole Miss didn’t come easy. At one point, it looked like it was the Rebels’ game to lose. But the Tigers stayed composed, made big plays when it mattered most and found a way to escape Oxford with a win.
There’s tons to talk about with this one, but here’s what stood out most:
1. Pettway continues to roll
The SEC has a new leading rusher and his name is Kamryn Pettway.
The sophomore racked up a career-high 236 yards on 30 carries with 41 of them coming on this sensational touchdown run in the first quarter.
Houdini ? pic.twitter.com/T6rXil0mUi
— C.J. Holmes (@_ceejay22au) October 29, 2016
Pettway has five 100-yard games on the year — three more than Kerryon Johnson, Auburn’s staring tailback — and will almost certainly hit No. 6 (and reach the 1,000-yard mark) this weekend against a 4-4 Vanderbilt team that isn’t expected to muster much resistance despite having the seventh-best rushing defense in the SEC.
Johnson has been considered Auburn’s feature back for the majority of the season and played a big role in Auburn’s win in Oxford after missing the team’s last two games with an ankle injury. However, there isn’t a running back controversy on the Plains. Yes, the Tigers still have a two-headed monster, but the mantle of feature back belongs to Pettway.
With four games left, I’m sure that Johnson — if 100 percent — will see plenty of opportunities because of the threat he presents to opposing defenses as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield. Besides, I still need both of these backs to go over 1,000-yards on the year for my prediction to hold true. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Pettway has been one of the most dominant backs in college football as of late, and deserves the bulk of the team’s carries down the stretch.
He’s a beast, and he’s absolutely earned it.
2. Small step back
To be fair, containing Chad Kelly and that Ole Miss passing attack is no simple task. Still, Auburn’s defense got torched Saturday night.
The Tigers sacked Kelly twice and intercepted one of his balls late in the fourth quarter to seal the win, but Kelly threw for 465 yards and three scores.
Ten receivers caught passes from Kelly and Ole Miss outgained the Tigers 570 to 554.
Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams had their moments, but overall there wasn’t much of a pass rush to brag about — leaving Auburn’s corners on an island and…well… they got exposed.
I expect the Tigers’ defense to bounce back at home against the Commodores, but a lackluster effort like that will cost them wins in these final four weeks with Georgia and Alabama looming on the schedule.
Kelly is a great quarterback who’s thrown for a bunch of yards and touchdowns this season, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. We haven’t had to address this in a while, but Ole Miss came out and punched Auburn in the mouth and that simply won’t get it done.
Let this game serve as a wake-up call. The Tigers’ pass defense needs to tighten up.
3. Back on the Gus Bus
It’s funny how quickly the narrative can change.
Earlier in the year, half of Auburn nation was begging for a coaching change. And if wasn’t for that win against LSU … could it have happened? But Malzahn took some of the pressure off himself by dividing his usual responsibilities with Rhett Lashlee. He got the team back to doing what it does best and the Tigers have been rolling since. Today, it was announced that Malzahn is one of 18 coaches to make the coach of the year watch list.
At the end of the day, Malzahn has been an incredible coach for this program since taking over for Gene Chizik in 2013, and although Auburn fans haven’t always approved of his methods, Malzahn continues to overcome adversity thrown his way and his 11th-ranked Tigers are proof of that.
Congratulations, Coach Malzahn. The recognition is well deserved. Now go beat Alabama.