AUBURN, Ala. — For the second straight week, Kamryn Pettway played the unlikely iron man role for the Auburn football backfield.
Pettway took all 34 of the Tigers’ running back carries for 128 yards and 3 touchdowns Saturday afternoon in a 24-10 win over FCS program Mercer. He was also the only running back to make a carry in Week 2, a 14-6 loss at No. 3 Clemson.
That huge workload even surprised Pettway, who missed the first game of the season with a suspension and was less than 100 percent against Clemson with plantar fasciitis.
“I mean, I didn’t think coming into this game that I would play that much,” Pettway said after the Mercer win. “But I had to do what I had to do to help my team. … I am kind of surprised by it, but not too much. I was ready for it.”
Pettway was without his No. 2 running back, fellow junior Kerryon Johnson, for the second straight game Saturday. But the Tigers had other scholarship options at running back.
Sophomore running back Kam Martin, who had 136 yards on 14 carries in Week 1 against Georgia Southern, has not taken another handoff since the opener. Redshirt freshman Malik Miller and freshman Devan Barrett combined for eight carries in Week 1 but didn’t take any handoffs against Clemson or Mercer.
“We feel that Kam Pettway is one of the best in our league,” Malzahn said Saturday when asked about the lack of carries for any other running back. “And the way the game unfolds sometimes, it was a close game, so I feel that the offensive coaches wanted Pettway in the game. I think that the score dictated a lot of that.”
With Pettway and quarterback Jarrett Stidham only recording official rushing yards Saturday, Auburn averaged just 3.4 yards per carry against its homecoming opponent from the FCS. Pettway only had one explosive run — a 22-yarder in the first quarter — all afternoon.
Pettway averaged 5.86 yards per carry last season, when he led the SEC in rushing yards per game. But Mercer held him to under 4 yards per touch Saturday. LSU and Alabama were the only two teams to do that in 2016.
“We’ve got to run the football better,” Malzahn said. “You look at it, and it’s 43 rushes and 146 yards. We have to run the ball better. We’ve got to solve that one.”
Pettway even took over Auburn’s wildcat duties Saturday, scoring 2 of his touchdowns off direct snaps. The Tigers relied on the more versatile Johnson for that role in the last two seasons, but the bruising 240-pound back got the opportunity Saturday. Pettway said he started working on the formation this week during practice.
In his expanded role, Pettway also caught the turnover bug that ravaged Auburn’s offense Saturday. He had one of the Tigers’ 4 lost fumbles in the second quarter — his one coming inside the Mercer 10-yard line.
“I just kind of got too excited,” Pettway said. “I saw the end zone and tried to cut back. Somebody hit it out.”
Pettway told reporters after the game he felt “100 percent” health-wise in his second game of the season. He practiced fully this week after reportedly playing at “80, 85 percent” against Clemson last week.
The Auburn running back said he never considered asking to come out of the game, but he said he still has full faith in his backups to do the job whenever he stays on the sidelines.
“I’m kind of a strong guy,” Pettway said. “I’m not going to just give in. I think when those guys do get in, they’ll do well. I have a lot of confidence in those guys.”