ATHENS, Ga. — Kamryn Pettway rushed for more than 150 yards in four straight games. Without him, Auburn couldn’t reach that mark as an entire team Saturday against Georgia.
As Pettway sat out Auburn’s road game at Georgia, the Tigers struggled to find their usual edge on the ground in a frustration-filled 13-7 loss. Auburn recorded fewer than 150 rushing yards as a team for the first time since a 87-yard performance in Week 1 against Clemson.
“We just didn’t make any explosive plays,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “(Georgia) did a good job stopping the run … As far as running the football, we just didn’t get it done.”
Auburn had only 5 runs of 10-plus yards against Georgia, and all of them came in the first half. Sophomore running back Kerryon Johnson had three of them in his first start since suffering an ankle injury against Mississippi State last month.
“That’s frustrating,” Johnson said of the zero first downs Auburn had in the second half. “Somebody has to make a play. We pride ourselves on running the ball and I didn’t make any plays and that’s just letting the team down more.”
Whatever could have gone wrong for the Auburn rushing attack did go wrong Saturday afternoon in Sanford Stadium.
Georgia started loading the box more against the Auburn offense, daring a less-than-100 percent Sean White to beat its Cover 0 look with an arm attached to an injured throwing shoulder. Whenever Auburn decided to go on the ground — three second-half drives featured zero rushing plays — the usual running lanes weren’t there.
“I thought we were getting hats on hats,” senior left guard Alex Kozan said. “They were kind of overflowing some of our runs … they were bringing down an extra hat in the run game, and we weren’t popping our runs like we usually were. They had a good game plan for sure.”
As the hot hand of Pettway stood cold on the sidelines, Auburn didn’t have much depth at running back behind Johnson. That depth took a bigger hit when sophomore wide receiver-turned-running back Stanton Truitt picked up an ankle injury on the first drive of the game.
Kamryn Pettway may be the most valuable non-QB in the SEC
— John Zenor (@jzenor) November 12, 2016
“Stanton Truitt got hurt the first time we gave it to him,” Malzahn said. “His ankle — he was maybe 50 percent. We’re pretty beat-up right there. We’re a run, play-action team. KJ wasn’t 100 percent. He’s got a lot of guts. We’re pretty beat up at that position.”
The injury situation put even more pressure on Johnson, who finished the day with 99 yards on 22 carries. He had Auburn’s only rushing touchdown of the game in a Wildcat set that became obsolete later in the game because of Georgia’s run-focused defense.
Johnson said his own ankle felt the best it had since the injury against Mississippi State. But he left Athens frustrated that he didn’t do more for Auburn’s offense in its worst night of production since the ill-fated 2012 season.
“I mean when you don’t have a guy like (Pettway) running the ball, obviously it affects things a little bit,” Johnson said. “But it’s the SEC. People are going to get hurt. That’s no excuse for us not to have a productive day. We just got outplayed.”
Auburn will hope to get Pettway back in time for the Iron Bowl, which now will be a matchup for nothing but rivalry pride on the Tigers’ side. Malzahn called Pettway’s quad injury a “week-to-week” issue.
Until then, it’s back to the drawing board for a limited Auburn rushing attack that felt like it could’ve done more against an average Georgia team.
“They didn’t do anything special, but we just didn’t execute like we were supposed to,” Johnson said. “We had busts here and there from myself and others and you know, we’ll fix those this week. We just have to come back next week and keep the season up.”