Coming into the season the main concern surrounding the Auburn Tigers was the stacked schedule. The first half of the schedule was daunting on its own merits. The big question now for Auburn will be the running back that will step up now that Jatarvious Whitlow will be out 4-6 weeks. Whitlow had surgery on a knee that was injured in the 24-13 loss to Florida. Whitlow has been the workhorse of the ground attack leading the team with 544 yards and seven touchdowns. So, which Auburn running back will step up now that Whitlow is out?
Which Auburn Running Back Will Step Up?
If the Tigers want to lean on experience, then the back they must go to is Kam Martin. The senior back has always been a good change of pace since 2017 when he was the back-up to Kerryon Johnson. The struggle with Martin is he has not been able to translate that to the feature back role. Going into last season Martin was tabbed as the guy to continue what Johnson had done the year prior, but just a few games in Whitlow took over the feature back role. This season Martin is the second leading rusher among backs with 174 yards and has scored two touchdowns. Now, Martin is not the only back on this team that will contribute but he will have a bigger role within the offense.
Shaun Shivers/D.J. Williams
Shaun Shivers sits at 5’7” and weighs in at 179 pounds, but don’t let those numbers fool you. Shivers is a back that can take hits and give them himself with his tough running style. It does not stop there with Shivers because he has the breakaway speed to completely change the outlook of a game and field position. The best performance for Shivers this season was against Kent State when he rushed for 104 yards.
D.J. Williams is a freshman that made a great impression among the Auburn fans after the spring game in April. In the annual event, Williams ran for 56 yards on ten carries but injuries have kept him off the field this season. Against Mississippi State, Williams rushed for 32 yards on seven carries in his only attempts on the season. Williams should figure into the rotation in the coming weeks.
The Jet Sweep
A mainstay in the Gus Malzahn offense has always been the jet sweep. Both Onterio McCalebb (2010) and Corey Grant (2013) ran it to perfection during two of the best seasons in Auburn history. With Whitlow out of the lineup, the coaching staff may have to find more creative ways of creating a running game. Using receivers Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove with the jet sweep is a way to keep defenses honest and open things in the middle for the running backs. On the season Schwartz has 78 yards rushing with two touchdowns off of just five attempts. Stove has rushed the ball six times for 36 yards and had success in the rushing attack in prior seasons.
The second-leading rusher this season has been true freshman starting quarterback Bo Nix. Nix has shown flashes of being very effective not only running the read-option play but also when a play breaks down. Nix has rushed this season for 191 yards and two touchdowns. In addition to Nix, Joey Gatewood has been very effective in the package of plays he has been involved in doing the exact same thing. Gatewood has totaled 122 yards and three touchdowns on the season. The difference between the two though, is that Gatewood is a more physical runner than Nix and more difficult to take down in the open field.
The soft spot in the schedule has hit at the most convenient time for Auburn. The Tigers will go to Fayetteville, Arkansas this weekend to take on the Razorbacks in what should be a comfortable win for Auburn. It will be a good opportunity to get some running backs reps and figure out what they can do with Whitlow out of the lineup.