Auburn RB duo has a chance to do something Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Williams did not
There was a time when just about every team had a 1,000-yard running back. Heck, Auburn led the way. Times have changed.
There will be national championship contenders that won’t have a running back top 1,000 yards this season. The nature of the game has changed. The running game has been largely replaced with run-pass option plays and passing games that are a far cry from the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality that once dominated college football, especially in the SEC.
Passing records and milestones are constantly being eclipsed. That’s just the nature of the game.
Auburn continues to be a bit different. Now, I’m not saying that the Tigers can’t pass. They can, although not as efficiently as their coaches would like. However, Auburn is a team that prides itself on the run under first-year head coach Bryan Harsin. That’s the type of personnel that Harsin has inherited and he has used it to Auburn’s advantage. The Tigers are 5-2 after beating Arkansas 38-21 on Saturday. Now, they have a bye week to self-assess, which allows us to do the same.
Auburn is 5th in the SEC with 196 yards rushing per game. That may not surprise you, but just how Auburn is gobbling up rushing yards is a bit eye-opening. With Bo Nix and TJ Finley, the Tigers don’t have a quarterback who is a threat on the ground. Sure, both can avoid pressure and Nix can pick up some key yards, but no one is going to mistake him for Cameron Newton. Instead of being pass-happy, Auburn is doing it the old-fashion way. They’re actually handing the ball off to their running backs. Imagine that!
The Tigers have 2 running backs in the top 10 in rushing yards per game this season. Tank Bigsby has 526 yards rushing. The sophomore is 6th in the SEC with 75.1 yards per game. Fellow tailback Jarquez Hunter has 492 yards — on only 8 carries per game. The freshman is averaging 70.2 yards per game, which is 9th-best in the SEC.
In this era of college football, it’s unusual to have 2 tailbacks that are that productive. It could even end up being historic.
Auburn has had 2 1,000-yard rushers in a season, but they weren’t always running backs.
In 2013, RB Tre Mason ran for 1,816 yards, and QB Nick Marshall ran for 1,068 yards.
In 2010, QB Cam Newton rushed for 1,473 yards and Michael Dyer rushed for 1,093.
Both were significant accomplishments, but having 2 true running backs rush for 1,000 yards in a season is something much rarer.
Former Auburn greats Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams never did that together in the same season. Bigsby and Hunter don’t have the same name recognition as Brown and Williams yet, but Auburn’s current duo of tailbacks could do something that Brown and Williams didn’t. Bigsby and Hunter have a chance to each top 1,000 yards.
Auburn has had 28 players rush for 1,000 yards in a season. The only time the Tigers have had 2 running backs top 1,000 yards in the same season occurred in 1979. James Brooks ran for 1,208 yards and Joe Cribbs added 1,120.
In case you don’t have a calendar handy, that’s over 40 years ago.
When you look back at the history books, it’s easy to see that Auburn has long prided itself on moving the ball on the ground, but Auburn has hit a bit of a drought lately. The Tigers haven’t had a player rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Kerryon Johnson ran for 1,391 yards in 2017.
The Tigers’ production on the ground proves a few things. First, they have a talented set of young tailbacks who will only improve. Second, it provides proof that Harsin assessed his team quickly and realized that relying on the run was the key to a successful season. Lastly, it proves that Auburn is built to stay within striking distance of most opponents because they can control the football offensively. That could be a huge factor in the Iron Bowl against Alabama, which will be a strong favorite to beat the Tigers.
Auburn has talent at quarterback and Nix should be commended for doing the most with what he has, but this group of offensive personnel doesn’t have the right players for fun-and-gun. The Tigers are much more suited for ground-and-pound.
Thanks to a well-timed bye week, Auburn’s running backs and offensive line can get healthy for a stretch run (pardon the pun) that sets the stage for Bigsby and Hunter to both top 1,000 yards this season.
Auburn will only face 2 defenses that have proven they can stop the run consistently. Mississippi State is 3rd in rushing defense in the SEC and Alabama is 2nd. Stacking up rushing yards against either will be challenging. However, there are better opportunities to run the ball.
Ole Miss is 13th in the SEC against the run. South Carolina is 9th. Texas A&M is 7th. None of those teams should scare Harsin and his running attack.
Auburn still has plenty to gain this season. First, the Tigers want to get to 10 wins, but being historic is certainly something to proud of. That seems more likely than not for Bigsby and Hunter.