Auburn will Kerryon with Johnson against Ole Miss
The most surprising thing about Auburn’s 543-yard rushing performance in last week’s 56-3 win over Arkansas was that the Tigers did it without Kerryon Johnson.
The sophomore running back, who was held out against the Razorbacks to recover from an ankle injury he suffered against Mississippi State earlier this month, will play against the Rebels on Saturday night.
“He practiced yesterday, and he’s really close (to 100 percent),” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “He will play this Saturday, there’s no doubt about that. But he’s close. We’re trying to be smart about it, but last week was really good, him not having to play.”
Another thing that was really good last week for Auburn was how well it ran the ball in its victory over the Razorbacks. The Tigers’ 543 rushing yards were the second-most for an SEC team against a conference opponent.
The only better performance came in 2012, when Malzahn’s Tigers ran for 545 vs. Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.
“We had a big win last week,” Malzahn said. “We played our most complete game of the year in all three phases.”
Meanwhile, the return of Johnson, who is tied for sixth in the SEC with 6 rushing TDs and also sixth in the conference in rushing yards per game (89.7), is definitely a boost for Auburn. The Rebels, who are allowing nearly 227 rushing yards per game, have the worst run defense in the league.
Ole Miss is also coming off a 38-21 loss to LSU in which Leonard Fournette ran for a school record 284 yards. In the second half in Baton Rouge, the Rebels gained just 104 yards and were outscored 17-0.
Nevertheless, Auburn — which lost, 27-19, to visiting Ole Miss in last season’s matchup — isn’t taking the Rebels lightly despite their 3-4 record. Neither is Malzahn, who feels his Tigers will face a major challenge.
“We’ve got a big test this week going to Ole Miss. Very explosive offense, one of the better offenses in the country. Very aggressive defense, and they play extremely well at home. They always get off to a fast start, and they’ve not trailed anybody at halftime this year, so it’ll be a big test for us, and I know it will be a good environment to play in.”
One of Auburn’s best units this season has been its secondary, which has helped the Tigers rank third in the SEC in passing defense. Despite the play of cornerback Carlton Davis and Co. this year, Malzahn feels Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly and the Rebels’ receiving corps will definitely be difficult to defend.
“They will be tested, there’s no doubt about that,” Malzahn said of his defensive backs. “They’ve got a bunch of very athletic, tall, long receivers that can run. Their quarterback’s one of the more explosive guys in our league. So that will be a big challenge, and I think that’ll be a big key, you know, to the game.”
Auburn, which leads its all-time series with the Rebels 29-11, beat Ole Miss, 35-31, in its last trip to Oxford in 2014. In a memorable game that included Laquon Treadwell’s season-ending broken leg, Cassanova McKinzy secured the victory for the Tigers by recovering a fumble in the end zone.
The Tigers are hoping for another road win against the Rebels, and maybe Johnson can play a factor in it.