Auburn defensive back Tray Matthews has a nickname for running back Kerryon Johnson.
“He’s Mr. Touchdown,” Matthews said. “He’s crazy.”
Johnson had three touchdowns in addition to his career-high 204 yards on 28 carries in No. 12 Auburn’s 44-23 win over Ole Miss. His five-yard score in the second quarter gave him the FBS lead in rushing touchdowns at 12.
“[Johnson] is a warrior,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “The thing about [Johnson], he’s one of the toughest guys we have. I don’t know of a whole lot of players that week one will be running for a touchdown and pull a hamstring bad enough where they’ve got to go down. Being able to come back later, two weeks or whatever, and be playing at the high level he is right now says a lot about him.”
Early in the week, Johnson said he was close to 90 percent. Today, Johnson says he was “95 to 100” percent.
“It felt great,” he said. “I felt so close to normal that I just couldn’t hide it.”
Johnson is the first Auburn player to eclipse 200 yards rushing since Kamryn Pettway last season at Ole Miss. His credit, however, went straight to the offensive line.
“You get 28 carries and the blocking is that good, it’s easy to get 200,” he said.
On numerous plays, Johnson took advantage of his regained strength to shove off defenders, while shaking his way for extra yardage.
“I’m just running the ball and seeing where I end up,” he said.
This was the first game this season that Johnson was able to take a majority of snaps in the backfield, with former No. 1 running back Pettway being held out with an injury. His appearance helped maintain Auburn’s recent string of strong, consistent offensive play.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham completed 14 of his 21 pass attempts for 235 yards and two touchdowns. He has completed 79.7 percent of his last 89 attempts, leading the SEC in completion percentage for the season at 72 percent.
For the first time in school history, Auburn has scored 40 points against three straight SEC opponents. Johnson’s recovery from his injury, which kept him out two games this season, has coincided with his team’s recent success.
“I’m very proud of him,” Malzahn said. “He was probably close to 90 percent. I have a strong feeling he’ll get healthier and healthier as the season goes. We were smart with him this week.”
Malzahn added that Pettway will be held out until the team knows he has reached 100 percent.
Auburn will travel to its second Death Valley this season to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to play Louisiana State University. Johnson says he is ready for the raucous environment despite Auburn’s 18-year drought in Baton Rouge.
“I love playing there,” he said. “I love the stadium, I love the crowd. Coming off these recent weeks, we have all the confidence in the world.”