AUBURN — With five days remaining until a critical game against Arkansas, Auburn’s coaching staff got more information Tuesday on the medical status of Kerryon Johnson’s ankle.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said in his weekly news conference hours before the team’s practice session that he’d get a better feel about the status of his sophomore tailback at the end of Tuesday’s workout.
“I think after today we'll have a better idea of his status,” Malzahn said. “I think the positive thing is he did practice Sunday. He is going to practice today. We'll know more after practice regarding his status.”
Johnson left Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., on crutches Oct. 8 following Auburn’s 38-14 win over Mississippi State, Johnson’s status was questionable throughout Auburn’s open week.
Johnson, who suffered the ankle injury in the first quarter at MSU, is seventh in the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards per game at 89.67 yards a game.
“I feel pretty good,” Lashlee said. “Got to see him move around today and it’s a day-to-day thing but after today I feel like he’s got a shot just knowing the kid like I do. We’ll see as the week goes on but I’m optimistic.”
If Johnson is unable to start, former Prattville High School star Kamryn Pettway has already proven he can fill the void after have a career-high 169 yards on 39 carries and three touchdowns at Mississippi State. Pettway leads Auburn in rushing with 101 yards a game and four touchdowns in five games this season. Pettway was forced to sit out the blowout 58-7 win against Louisiana Monroe on Oct. 1 with a bruised quad.
Auburn is third in the Southeastern Conference and 12th in FBS in rushing offense at 262.83 yards a game.
Malzahn said Tuesday the main goal for his team as they approach a home game against No. 17 Arkansas (5-2, 1-2 SEC) after a bye week was for key players like Johnson, center Xavier Dampeer and wide receiver Marcus Davis to get healthy by any means possible.
“Our goals were to heal our guys up, get fresh with our starters and develop our younger guys,” Malzahn said. “A lot of younger guys are playing. We needed them to take that next step and in practice they did that. Now it's got to carry over to the game. That's our challenge.”
PRODUCTIVE WILLIAMS: On arguably an Auburn defensive line that can go nine to 10 players deep, sophomore Andrew Williams has found a role in his first season of significant action.
The 289-pound defensive tackle leads the second-team defensive line with eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry in six games. The McDonough, Ga., native has been key to Auburn being sixth in the Southeastern Conference in rushing defense at just 147.2 yards a game, which is a 40-yard decrease from last season.
“He's been more of a coachable player. He's been spending his time in the film room,” Auburn defensive tackle Montravius Adams said. “It's really just developing from a younger player to an older player. He has become a better practice player. He's just doing all the right things.”
Williams’ development in the second-team defensive line, which features freshman Derrick Brown, sophomore Jeff Holland and sophomore Byron Cowart, has allowed Auburn to play multiple players up front against tempo offenses.
“We still have to refine our skill sets,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “But the thing it is allowing us to do is to keep them fresh, and in this day of hurry-up no-huddle offenses to keep the defensive line fresh and to have enough to do it without the talent level dropping is a huge advantage to us.”
TIPPING POINT IN 2015: Malzahn said you never know the tipping point of your season until its over, and for 2015, the four-overtime loss at Arkansas was the moment the season went south.
After the 54-46 defeat at Arkansas, Auburn stood 4-3 without a victory against an SEC West opponent with Ole Miss, Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama still on the schedule. Not to mention the fact that the new starting quarterback Sean White was injured in the game forcing Jeremy Johnson to retake the role two weeks later at A&M.
“When you think about it, it still makes me mad,” Malzahn said. “But that's last year. That's history. There's nothing you can do about it. Like I said, every year is different. We've got a lot of new guys and they've got some new guys and yeah I try not to think about things I can't control any longer."