AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s expectations were sky high entering the 2014-15 season. A difference of a few seconds left Florida State holding the final BCS title trophy, but a clean slate offered Auburn another shot at a championship.
While the year didn’t unfold as Auburn hoped it would, there still were numerous memorable moments — several of which involved running back Cameron Artis-Payne. The 5-foot-11 Artis Payne was the top junior college running back in the country before transferring to Auburn. After watching Tre Mason run for 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns the previous year, Artis-Payne was ready to help his Tigers win again — and he did.
Artis-Payne had the third-best rushing season in Auburn history (1,608 yards) and led the SEC in yards per game (123.7). In his career-best game against Texas A&M — the Tigers lost 41-38 — he piled up 221 yards and a pair of TDs. It was the 13th-best rushing game in Auburn history.
Artis-Payne is in his second NFL season with the Carolina Panthers. SEC Country’s Lauren Shute caught up with him this week.
Here’s how he describes that 2014 matchup against Texas A&M (as told to Shute):
Big game. Tough team. It’s going to be a battle. That’s what playing the Aggies always brought to mind. In our conference, every single week is pretty much a big game. We just had to treat A&M the same way.
They have a great coach in Kevin Sumlin, they have a great scheme. They’re going to bring it every time you play them. We were really just focusing on our keys on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Being an Auburn running back is special. To be a part of that great legacy that Auburn’s built over the years with great running backs, I didn’t really feel it’s pressure, it’s just exciting. If you’re a high-caliber guy like the guys Auburn recruits at running back, you thrive on that.
I couldn’t really tell I was going to have a good day against the Aggies early. You can usually tell (how you’ll do) from the flow of the offensive line. When the offensive line gets in a good flow and they can push guys around up front, then you know you’ll have a good day as a running back.
After the fumble I got a nice little talking to from Auburn legend Bo Jackson who was on the sideline. We’ll keep those words between me and him, but it was definitely motivation. I wanted to make up for the mistake. I was trying to play as hard as I could.
I wasn’t even aware that I reached 1,000 rushing yards for the year in the first half, honestly. I was so focused and locked in.
It wasn’t really a conscious mentality (to have a big game), I mean I was trying to get a win for Auburn. That’s all I was really focused on. I wasn’t worried about stats or numbers or anything like that. I had to go out and get a win.
At the time it didn’t really register (that I was having a good game). When it comes up now it sounds like a big accomplishment. But at the time I was so focused and locked in I didn’t know how many yards I had during the game.
It’s also crazy because most of the time when me and Nick (Marshall) spoke during the game it was about adjustments or what we were seeing out there, not really about what was going right, but just what we could do better.
It was definitely a good game. (Texas A&M’s quarterback) Kyle Allen played well. You definitely notice the other team’s offensive possessions just because they’re putting pressure on our offensive line to score because they’re doing well on offense. So it was pretty much just back and forth. We were looking at what they’re doing, seeing how we could split their defense based on what we were seeing out there.
Getting a win at home was definitely important to us (the home team hasn’t won in this series since the Aggies joined the SEC). We always want to protect our home turf. We failed at doing that that year, but it was a close game. There were a few mistakes down the stretch that led to a loss, but like I said it’s all in the battle when you play A&M.
After the game we were really disappointed that we didn’t come out with a win. We felt like we were the better team and we didn’t make the plays we needed to down the stretch and that was disappointing because that’s what we pride ourselves on. If it’s close at the end, we’re going to win. That’s what Coach Malzahn said all the time, but we didn’t pull it out that time.
It would have been a lot better if we’d won our game, honestly, but (my game) was still an accomplishment. You can never downplay a great accomplishment like that, it was good.
It’s really never about stats, though.
It’s about the memories you create with your teammates. The guys in the locker room, the bond you all have together, it’s priceless. Those are people you will carry with you as friends throughout the rest of your life. That’s what a lot of former Tigers who are in the NFL miss most from college.