Fingers crossed, Auburn: Pettway, Johnson may both play
By JOHN ZENOR
They're two of the 13th-ranked Tigers' top offensive playmakers, but have scarcely been healthy and available at the same time the past two seasons. Johnson and Pettway are expected to play in the same game for the first time this season Saturday against No. 24 Mississippi State.
"We haven't been able yet to have our two main running backs play together healthy yet, or play together period," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "If we can get that rolling, that'll be a big shot in the arm for our run game."
Pettway was suspended from the opener against Georgia Southern and has battled plantar fasciitis, missing the Missouri game. Johnson missed the two games in between with a right hamstring injury .
Both also were sidelined with injuries at times last season, when Pettway didn't' play in the opener.
Now they're finally together again. Fingers crossed, Auburn.
"Yeah, 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."
They're one of the Southeastern Conference's top tandems when healthy. Pettway led the SEC in rushing yards per game last season and has 202 yards and three touchdowns in his two games so far this season. Johnson ran for five touchdowns against Missouri and has 184 yards in less than six quarters.
They bring different styles to the field. Pettway is a 6-foot, 235-pound bruiser. The 6-foot, 212-pound Johnson is more of a shifty, versatile threat.
"When they're both healthy it's a great one-two punch," Auburn safety Tray Matthews said. "Pettway is a dynamic runner as well as a bulldozer. People don't want to tackle him that much. Kerryon is a more shifty guy, but he can also punish some linebackers and safeties as well. When they're both healthy, it's a crazy tandem. I think they'll be back to 100 percent these upcoming weeks."
Auburn also has speedy 182-pounder Kam Martin, who actually leads the team with 210 yards rushing. He's averaging 9.1 yards per carry but didn't log a rush against either Clemson or Mercer despite apparently being healthy enough.
The mix of styles does present the Bulldogs defense with some challenges.
"They put some pretty good backs on the field - and different styles," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "When Kerryon Johnson is running the ball he's kind of a long slasher. And then Pettway is going to pound away at you. Both of them have big play ability, but their running styles are a little different.
"Both are very dangerous at what they do. Knowing Gus for a long time, he likes to run the ball, so they're going to work at being really good at running the ball and when they can do that it makes them dangerous in the play action."
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Starkville, Mississippi, contributed to this report.
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Updated September 28, 2017