What happens if Gus Malzahn’s main guy can’t carry on?
Brandon Marcello reminds us that the Gus Bus doesn’t purr as smoothly when it’s not firing on all pistons.
Injuries to Auburn’s top players do not usually result in positive results in the Gus Malzahn era.
Injuries to Auburn quarterback Sean White and running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson derailed the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The Tigers watched a six-game winning streak evaporate with sluggish offensive performances near the end of the 2016 season, which included two of the four worst offensive outputs of Malzahn’s career — 164 yards against Georgia and 182 yards against Alabama — as White dealt with a shoulder injury and Pettway and Johnson battle various injuries.
Two of the bottom 12 offensive outputs occurred in 2015 as the Tigers dealt with an injury to White late in the season. A hamstring injury kept Johnson on the sideline as a slow-footed Pettway (ankle injury) struggled against Clemson in Week 2 of this season, resulting in the worst offensive performance in Malzahn’s career (117 yards).
No. 2 Auburn (10-2) may face a similar situation Saturday in the SEC Championship against No. 6 Georgia (11-1). Johnson, Auburn’s leading rusher, is questionable for the rematch against the Bulldogs.
Not that the driver isn’t putting a brave face on things.
“The last two years, you’re exactly right,” Malzahn said. “There’s been some injuries to key people at times. This team is different. I think everybody sees it. Any time you’ve got one of the best players in all of college football and you’re not for sure if he’s going to play, as a coach, it concerns you. But our team, I think we’ve got depth. I really think that, if he can’t go, our guys will rise to the occasion.”
I can’t blame him for trying. It’s not as if he doesn’t have that offensive line and Stidham to fall back on, either. Still, you don’t lose one of the best tailbacks in the country and not miss a beat. As far as how strong an assumption you can make of the first part of that sentence, Marcello reports that Johnson hasn’t practiced all week. If true, that’s not exactly an indication of robust good health. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on when Auburn goes on offense.