Auburn football: Who will step up for the Tigers' rushing attack in place of Boobie Whitlow?
Gus Malzahn was blunt about the fact that Auburn will be without Boobie Whitlow for some time.
“Well, first of all, you’ve got to be real,” he said. “We’re not going to go to Arkansas with one of the best tailbacks in our league. I just think that’s just the reality of the thing. But we do have confidence in our other guys. We’ve got confidence in our offensive line. What we’ve been talking about is opportunity. We’ve got some guys that have opportunities, we’ll see how they fare.”
Those other guys — Kam Martin, Shaun Shivers, D.J. Williams and possibly Malik Miller — will have to step up over the next few weeks. The good news for the Tigers is that Martin and Shivers have experience in big-game situations.
Martin, a 5-9, 190-pound senior, has served as the backup to Whitlow for most of the past 2 seasons. He ran for 458 yards and a touchdown last season on 103 carries. This season, he’s totaled 174 yards and 2 scores on 34 carries. His talent is fine. His size and durability could be worrisome. He has only had 20+ carries one time against a Power 5 defense — last year against Washington, when he ran 22 times for 80 yards.
How many carries can he efficiently give in a game, if not this week against Arkansas, but in 2 weeks against LSU?
Shivers will be counted on to help. The speedy sophomore is even smaller, though. He stands just 5-7 and 175 pounds but has proven in his rare carries to be productive. He averaged 5.30 yards per rush on 70 attempts last season, scoring 3 times.
Yet it might be the true freshman Williams who becomes the workhorse for Malzahn. A 4-star recruit out of Sebring, Fla., many Auburn fans, especially with the rushing attack struggling at times, have been wanting to see what the freshman can do.
He’s a sturdy 215 pounds but only has 7 carries so far in six games due to recovering from injuries. With road trips to loud venues like Arkansas and LSU awaiting the Tigers, how much can Malzahn count on Williams, especially when it comes to pass protection and audibles, will determine whether he gets the chance to show his value.
Oh, and don’t forget about Joey Gatewood. Not used against Florida, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him come into goal-line situations now with Whitlow out. Gatewood has 3 rushing TDs, 2nd on the team behind Whitlow’s 7.
Malzahn will have to shake things up a bit, and that is one of those adjustments that he refused to do against the Gators.
So what will the Tigers do against the Razorbacks on Saturday? Malzahn kicked himself for not helping quarterback Bo Nix more against Florida, resulting in 3 interceptions from the freshman. Expect that to change for the foreseeable future as he gets the ball into the hands of playmakers, including wide receivers Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove.
But for Nix to be productive in this offense, however, the running game has to work. Nix has had his moments, also. He’s actually Auburn’s 2nd-leading rusher with 191 yards and he has added 2 rushing TDs.
Martin and Shivers are both a change of pace from the way Whitlow runs. Whitlow, who is patient much like Kerryon Johnson, is a north-south runner that has the vision to see the holes opening up. Martin and Shivers are speedy guys who, while can bust through a hole in a split second, can also be used on jet sweeps, reverses, and other boundary plays.
It is more than likely that Martin, Shivers and Williams will all be part of the game plan for Malzahn with Whitlow out. It is now up to them to show they can be counted on.