AUBURN, Ala. — Something unusual happened on Auburn’s first play of Saturday’s game against Ole Miss: Kamryn Pettway didn’t go anywhere.
The running back was swallowed by a handful Rebels defenders behind the line of scrimmage on his first carry of the night. Yet on the following play, Pettway burst through a gap for a 15-yard gain and a first down, an improvement that mirrors his progression this season.
“I’m just aiming to be better than I was last week,” Pettway said. “That’s my motivation.”
Pettway’s inner drive helped him record his third-consecutive career performance during the Tigers’ 40-29 win over Ole Miss in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The 6-foot, 240-pound Pettway rushed for 236 yards on 30 carries, adding a 41-yard touchdown run in the first quarter — his seventh and longest scoring run of the year. It was also the third-straight game he gained over 150 yards on the ground.
“Kamryn Pettway is starting to establish himself as one of the top guys in the country,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “He is getting better every time out.”
Following several runs of five or fewer yards late in the first quarter, Pettway barreled forward for a 56-yard gain on his second carry of the second quarter. It was his longest run of the night and helped set up a 1-yard touchdown run for Kerryon Johnson, who put Auburn up 17-16.
“When you see Pettway coming at you, it strikes fear in defenders,” Johnson said. “So obviously he’s just running the ball hard, keeping his feet moving and he’s getting a lot of yards.”
Though Pettway — who’s often been compared to an 18-wheeler — had 1 touchdown, he averaged 7.9 yards per carry and spent most of the evening flattening defenders, who became worn down as the night continued.
“The thing that’s incredible about Pettway is when he gets to the second level, people are kind of getting out of the way,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said in the days leading up to Auburn’s trip to Oxford. “He goes north-south at such a rate that is unusual for big guys. He’s got good, quick, shifty feet. He can go north-south, and he makes one cut and he doesn’t dance around. Because of that, he’s able to run through a lot of arm tackles as well.”
Pettway became the 19th Tiger to rush for more than 200 yards and posted the 10th-best performance in school history. It was the first time a Tiger rushed for more than 200 yards since Nov. 8, 2014, when Cameron Artis-Payne amassed 221 yards against the Texas A&M Aggies.
The Montgomery native also leads the SEC in rushing yards (933) and attempts per game (21.14), despite missing the Louisiana-Monroe game with a quad injury and not recording a carry against Clemson in the season opener.
“It means a lot to me knowing that (I lead the SEC), I mean a lot of people doubted me,” Pettway said. “Some people thought just because I’m so big I wasn’t going to be able to do too much.”
At this point, Auburn players aren’t surprised by the bruising back, but they’re still often at a loss for words.
“He’s a beast. … He’s, I mean he’s, that’s all I can say,” wide receiver Darius Slayton said. “The man is a beast. He just runs the ball extremely well.”
The Tigers don’t anticipate straying away from their downhill attack next weekend against Vanderbilt — who has the seventh-best rushing defense in the SEC — or in the final two conference road games of the regular season (Georgia and Alabama).
“That’s just the kind of performances I expect out of him now,” Kerryon Johnson said. “He’s a load and he loves to run the football hard and physical and it’s hard for people to tackle him. So if he keeps that up, we’ll go very far.”