Keeping the ball on the ground has always been Gus Malzahn’s offensive mantra.
In a conference that favors a strong rushing game, Auburn runs the ball more than most, leading the SEC so far this season with 239.57 yards per game. It should come as no surprise, then, that Auburn comfortably cruised past the Arkansas Razorbacks, winning 51-10 with 298 rushing yards.
Losing leading running back JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow was cause for concern before the Arkansas game. Whitlow, who had surgery following a knee injury sustained in the loss to Florida on Oct. 5, ranked 2nd in the SEC with 544 rushing yards before his injury. Many wondered what would become of our running game in his absence, as Whitlow will be kept out of the matchup against LSU this Saturday, and possibly against Georgia in mid-November.
Gus Malzahn delivered an answer last Saturday in Fayetteville, showcasing an attack by committee approach that allowed five running backs to have 32 total carries in a dominating performance against Arkansas’ outmatched defensive front.
#9 Kam Martin led the team in rushing yards on the day with 84 yards, being a consistent offensive presence throughout the game. His first touch of the day was on Auburn’s second drive of the game, exploding for a 52 yard run that brought the Auburn offense deep into Arkansas territory.
Two plays later, it was #8 Shaun Shivers who barreled into the endzone for Auburn’s second touchdown of the day. He totaled four carries for 16 yards and one touchdown in the first half, and late in the second half had a 12 yard run for a first down.
However, it was #22 Harold Joiner who had arguably the most impressive performance of the day. In the fourth quarter, Joiner carried the ball four times for 59 yards, one of which was an explosive 32 yard run for a touchdown to put the Tigers up 51-10. His dominant fourth quarter performance averaged 14.8 yards per carry, second only to wide receiver Anthony Schwartz, who averaged 15.0 yards per carry on two carries for 30 yards.
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Gus Malzahn seemed to be happy with the success of his running backs. When asked about the impact Whitlow’s absence has had on the team, Malzahn said, “Not having Boobee is obviously a tough one. But the good thing is they (the young backs) did get some experience last week on the road. We do know it’s going to be louder and everything that goes with it. But they got that experience and we’ve got a lot of trust in them.”
It’s good they got that experience against the Razorbacks, as the entire team will need to step up this Saturday against LSU in Baton Rouge. LSU’s defense is currently ranked 10th nationally against the run, allowing just 93.3 rushing yards per game and four rushing touchdowns all season.
Even so, Malzahn is confident in his young running backs. “This is why they came to Auburn. They’ve just got to seize the moment.”
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