After the departure of Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway to the 2017 NFL Draft, Auburn’s starting running back position was wide open for the first time in years.
Because Kam Martin seemed to be obvious frontrunner, many fans were oblivious to JaTarvious Whitlow, who redshirted the 2017 season. After praise from coaches throughout the offseason and an excellent showing of athleticism in Auburn's A-Day game, Whitlow began to rise up the running back depth chart.
In Auburn's season opener against Washington, Whitlow had the first carry of his career late in the first quarter. His first touchdown came in the second half on a run that showcased his power as he ran over defenders and into the endzone to give Auburn the lead late into the fourth quarter.
He also trucked Washington safety Jojo McIntosh for a first down to ice the clock and seal Auburn’s 21-16 victory over Washington.
Against Alabama State, Whitlow led the team in yards and carries, totaling 122 yards on 14 carries, averaging an impressive 8.7 yards per run in Auburn’s 63-9 victory over the Hornets.
Meanwhile, Kam Martin, the man who most fans thought would lead Auburn’s ground game, totaled only 40 yards on seven carries.
In Auburn’s heartbreaking loss against LSU, Whitlow led the team in yards and carries for the second straight week while also rushing for more than 100 yards in consecutive games.
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He added a touchdown on the ground and averaged 4.7 yards a carry against LSU’s elite defensive line. Martin received only two carries for four yards and dropped a wide-open pass from Jarrett Stidham.
Freshman Shaun Shivers totaled more carries and yards than Martin for the second straight week, making it seem as though Martin has fallen to third string on Auburn’s depth chart while Shivers is building his case as the Tiger’s backup running back.
Shivers is the only other running back besides Whitlow to rush for 100 yards or more in a single game.
However, head coach Gus Malzahn is still hesitant to name Whitlow as the starting running back and determine a pecking order in the backfield.
"We haven’t named a main guy," Gus Malzahn said. "We’re still feeling ourselves out.”
So far on the season, Whitlow has 254 yards and two touchdowns off of 44 carries and averages 5.8 yards per run.
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