AUBURN, Ala. — The tone around the words “Kamryn Pettway” in Auburn on Tuesday was both uncertain and confident.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn wouldn’t rule out the sophomore running back for the Tigers’ upcoming rivalry matchup at Georgia (Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS). He also wouldn’t give any details about the injury Pettway suffered on a late 60-yard run against Vanderbilt other than it was “a leg injury.”
But Pettway is set on practicing before Auburn’s trip to Athens.
“We’re hoping to get him on the practice field today or tomorrow,” Malzahn said. “He’s done well so far. He’s kind of a quick healer. I’ll know more later in the week but he is planning on practicing.”
This season, “planning on practicing” hasn’t necessarily been a good sign for Auburn injury updates. Senior wide receiver Tony Stevens and junior linebacker Tre’ Williams practiced and dressed out for Vanderbilt, but neither played.
So if Pettway practices this week and isn’t able to play, how is Auburn planning to replace the SEC’s leading rusher?
“I feel pretty good about that,” Malzahn said. “We didn’t have Pettway one game, and (Kerryon Johnson has) done a super job. Stanton Truitt has done a very good job running between the tackles when we’ve asked him to. We feel good about what we have.”
Pettway missed the Louisiana-Monroe game with an injury, but Auburn still ran for 410 yards. The task will be much different against SEC East rival Georgia, which ranks 20th nationally in rushing yards allowed per carry (3.42).
Auburn offensive lineman Robert Leff said he sees the talent on the defensive side for Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, but he still sounded confident in the Tigers’ rushing attack.
“They’re just really athletic guys. They fly around, cut towards the ball quickly. They have a few big guys, big hitters,” Leff said. “But we’ll see how well they can stand up to our run game.”
If Pettway is unable to play, lead running back responsibilities will fall to sophomore Kerryon Johnson, who started Auburn’s first six games of the season. Johnson averaged more than 4 yards per carry against Clemson, Texas A&M and LSU but never cracked the 100-yard mark.
Pettway, on the other hand, left the Vanderbilt game last weekend with his fourth straight 150-yard performance. He became the first Auburn player to do that since the legendary Bo Jackson.
Truitt moved from wide receiver to running back on a full-time basis earlier this season. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Atlanta native has 182 yards and 2 touchdowns on 29 carries in 2016.
Malzahn didn’t mention true freshman running back Kam Martin, another smaller rusher who has rushed for 244 yards and 1 touchdown this season.
When asked about the possibility of Chandler Cox getting involved in the running game, Malzahn said the starting H-back “came out of the spring probably as good as any running back (Auburn) had.”
No matter who lines up in the backfield behind him, though, Leff knows Auburn’s strategy will stay the same.
“Obviously we’re going to need to continue to run the ball,” Leff said. “Who knows what the running back situation will be like, but I don’t think it will really matter as long as we make holes for them.”