For Auburn supporters, this season has not gone the way many envisioned. But Auburn’s record could have been even worse without the performance of a few key players.
One of those players, sophomore running back Peyton Barber, has given Tigers fans a lot to be thankful for even in an underwhelming season.
Think back to Auburn’s opening game against Louisville in the Georgia Dome. It is hard to believe now, but Auburn was the No. 6 team in the country.
Sophomore Roc Thomas started the game for Auburn, but the coaching staff was unsure which running back would emerge as the leader of a group that included Jovon Robinson, the No. 1-rated junior college running back prospect, and freshman Kerryon Johnson, 2015’s Mr. Alabama.
Then there was Barber, who entered the season with 10 career carries in six games.
Johnson did not play in the opener because of injury, and Thomas (six carries) and Robinson (two carries) both ended up getting injured in the first half. That led to Barber getting 24 carries for 115 yards — 95 of which came in the second half — as Auburn held on to win 31-24.
The following week, Barber helped save Auburn from a catastrophic upset to FCS opponent Jacksonville State. On Auburn’s only possession of overtime, Barber accounted for a key third-and-9 catch and the game-winning touchdown.
The struggle to win that game was a sign of bad things to come for the Tigers, who dropped their next two games. Barber, however, continued to produce.
Barber rushed for a season-high 147 yards and scored a season-best five touchdowns against San Jose State to break the two-game losing streak. The 225-pound back would score six more times over Auburn’s next two games.
Barber’s production has decreased late in the season, partially because of a nagging injury and a late surge by Robinson. Robinson has looked like the running back many expected while rushing for 442 yards on 6.1 yards per carry during the last four games.
That has had Barber playing a more complementary role down the stretch, but he still enters Saturday’s Iron Bowl with a team-leading 947 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. A good day on the ground would help Barber eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, but it will be tough against an Alabama defense allowing just 77.8 rushing yards per game.
Even if Barber doesn’t reach the 1,000-yard plateau, his individual success this season has been impressive. While Robinson, Thomas and Johnson have all been in and out of the lineup with injuries, Barber has been a constant for the Tigers. Who knows what Auburn’s record would look like without him?
If you’re an Auburn fan and take time to think about the things you are thankful for this week, Barber should make your list.