In a season where adapting to ever-changing situations is a must, Auburn’s running backs showed that they could continue to adapt in the team’s 30-17 win over Tennessee Saturday.
The Tigers started the season off with Shaun Shivers as the starting running back, but heading into Week 2, Shivers was injured in practice and missed the next three games. He did not return until Auburn’s matchup with Ole Miss.
Shivers has not been the only running back to deal with injuries this season. D.J. Williams has appeared in six of Auburn’s seven games this season but has not been 100% healthy for portions of it.
While the running back room has been thin at times during the season, Auburn has seen freshman running back Tank Bigsby emerge as a standout. Heading into Auburn’s matchup with Tennessee, Bigsby had 89 carries for 503 yards on the season, leading the team in both categories.
Williams and Shivers had a combined 43 carries for 230 yards heading into Tennessee.
After Bigsby was injured on his second carry of the game against Tennessee, Williams and Shivers were called upon just like Bigsby had been earlier in the year.
“Your brother goes down, you just want to step up for him," Williams said. “While I was getting to get in, [Tank] was just cheering on me. It felt pretty good to do it for him.”
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Bigsby attempted to return to the game after getting injured but rushed just one more time before being taken out of the game. The freshman ended the night with three carries for 24 yards.
While Auburn’s four-game streak of 200+ total rushing yards may have been snapped against Tennessee, the tandem of Williams and Shivers finished the evening with 25 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown.
“They ran the ball very physical tonight,” said Auburn quarterback Bo Nix. “Those guys getting in there, running the ball hard and physical like Auburn running backs do. It’s a spark for our offense, and I’m proud of them."
Shivers finished the evening with a career-high 14 rushing attempts and a season-high 65 rushing yards. The junior running back may not have found the endzone but helped set up the 54-yard touchdown pass between Nix and wide receiver Anthony Schwartz.
After Auburn started with the ball on its 21-yard line, Shivers picked up two quick first downs before the Tigers finished the drive off with the deep shot to Schwartz.
Having a deep running back room where each back brings his own unique skill set is something that Schwartz appreciates.
“Yeah, definitely,” Schwartz said. “We know what they can do. We know Shaun is a burner, so if you get him out on the edge, ooh, it’s over with. He can also run everything over, and same thing with D.J. D.J. has that deceptive speed where he might not look like it, but if he gets out in the open, you better watch out.
Williams finished the evening with 11 carries for a team-leading 66 yards also saw his night capped off with a 9-yard rushing touchdown. The touchdown was his second rushing touchdown of the season and his first since the season opener against Kentucky.
The 9-yard rushing touchdown effectively ended any hopes of a Tennessee comeback as it gave the Tigers a three-score lead. After the touchdown, Auburn led 27-10.
“It was very good for D.J. to get out there and have a lot of big runs,” Shivers said. “I was happy for him when he got in the endzone because he’s been hurt most of the season. He hasn’t really been playing. Now that he’s back, he scored a touchdown. I’m real happy for him. I’m real excited just to have him back.”
Auburn improves to 5-2 on the season and has a matchup with Alabama in the distance. The Tigers and Crimson Tide will meet Saturday not only on CBS, but ESPN’s College GameDay will also be there.
While Bigsby’s status for the Iron Bowl is unknown, Malzahn is confident in both Shivers and Williams going forward in the run game.
“Yeah, we knew both those guys could get it done in a big game, anyway,” Malzahn said. “Throughout their careers, both those guys have played real well; Shivers and D.J. Williams have both played well. It didn’t surprise us at all. Those are both really quality backs.”
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