Malzahn hoping for a healthy dynamic duo at RB

Bryan Matthews, Senior Editor
Auburn Sports

AUBURN | Auburn hasn’t been able to roll out a healthy Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson together since the first quarter of last year’s game at Mississippi State.

Both are close to returning to full speed as the 13th-ranked Tigers prepare to host the 24th-ranked Bulldogs this Saturday.

“I'm very excited,” Johnson said. “Honestly, it's going to be a little bit weird again for both of us to be out there at the same time. But we're both definitely excited to have each other.

“Like we've always said, it's a lot easier when you have two. So if that happens this game, that's going to be great. If it doesn't, we've got to keep pushing either way.”

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Robin Conn/AuburnSports.com

Johnson started at MSU last season but suffered a high ankle sprain in the first quarter. Pettway took over and finished with 169 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries, the first of four-straight monster games against SEC opponents.

But Pettway suffered a quadricep injury at the end of a win over Vanderbilt and missed the next two games and still wasn’t 100 percent against Alabama or Oklahoma. Johnson missed just one game but was never 100 percent over Auburn’s final six games.

The Tigers lost three of their last four games without a fully healthy Pettway or Johnson available.

“What really got us toward the end of last year is they both kinda got banged up and so you’d like to see what they can do when they’re both healthy,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “I’m hoping that’s close. I’m hoping it happens this week and both of them, they’re different, but they’re both extremely talented in their own way.”

Pettway was suspended for game one this season. Johnson started and ran for 136 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries against Georgia Southern before injuring his hamstring in the second quarter and missing the next two games. He returned last week against Missouri to rush for a career-best five touchdowns.

Pettway started against Clemson and Mercer despite being slowed by plantar fasciitis, but missed the Missouri game with an undisclosed leg injury.

“(Pettway) practiced Sunday so I'd say right now there's a high likelihood of him playing,” Malzahn said.

While Pettway is a downhill power back, Johnson is more of a slasher with good instincts between the tackles and the ability to make plays on the edge running or catching passes.

They could compliment each other well in a balanced offense.

“I think any defense will tell you when you have two backs and they're both different, I think that puts you on constant edge,” Johnson said. “When a new guy comes in, you have to start thinking differently. You're like, 'Oh, what about this play now? What about this play?’ When another guy comes in, ‘What about this play, what about this style?’

“I think it poses a great challenge to the defenses, and it keeps them honest and makes them think about it a lot more differently. I think it helps us a lot more as well.”

Kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium is set for 5 p.m. CT on ESPN.

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