How The Auburn Tigers Maintained Their Rushing Dominance Without Star Boobee Whitlow Against Arkansas
The Auburn Tigers had a tough predicament going into Saturday's game against Arkansas, who will replace Boobee Whitlow? Boobee had knee surgery following the Tigers loss to #7 Florida two weeks ago, leaving the team without their star running back who has 544 yards and 7 touchdowns on the season. The player predicted to fill his shoes was senior Kam Martin, who before the game, actually averaged 5.12 yards per carry, 0.22 yards more than Boobee, on only 34 attempts. It seems that only Gus Malzahn and the Tiger’s Offense knew who would play before the game because on the press box team sheet it started that the starting running back would be Kam Martin or Malik Miller or Shaun Shivers or D.J. Williams or Harold Joiner.
The teams took the field, and within 3 plays Marlon Davidson managed to recover a fumble. Bo Nix made two quick passing plays to one of the fastest players in college football, Anthony Schwartz, for 5 and 13 yards. Nix finished the drive by rushing for a 4 yard touchdown. If you thought the Tigers would rely on their passing the whole game, and only use Nix to rush for short gains based on what was done in their first drive, you would be wrong.
After a punt by Arkansas, Kam Martin lit up the ground game by rushing for a game long 52 yards followed by a 5 yard carry. Shaun Shivers then made his first carry of the game for a 6 yard touchdown, and before you knew it, Auburn led 14-0.
The first quarter ended with a 55 yard steady rushing drive with 9 carries averaging 4 yards per carry, and a couple passing attempts which resulted in a 44 yard field goal attempt that Anders Carlson nestled between the uprights.
The second quarter, however, was a sign that not all may be right with the Auburn Offense. 5 rushes for only 15 yards forced Nix to attempt a pass to Seth Williams which was incomplete. On 3rd down, Nix was sacked for a 7 yard loss, bringing on Carlson for another field goal attempt which went wide from 48 yards. On their final drive of the first half, Nix had two incompletions, and D.J. Williams carried for only 5 yards, resulting in a punt.
The first half showed that Malzahn was comfortable with all his running backs, but relying mostly on Kam Martin with his 76 yards on 8 attempts out of the 125 yards rushing in the first. Malzahn also displayed his confidence in Bo Nix's arm after some misfires in their last game at Florida where he had a season high 3 interceptions. Nix completed only 4 from 9 in the first half, missing 3 of those in the 2nd quarter when the offense seemed to stagnate.
The Tigers emerged from the locker room through a cloud of smoke which engulfed the stadium after the Razorback Marching Band's halftime show, looking to show dominance in the rush game, and get Nix back to the same quality he showed in the air during the Mississippi State game.
Auburn received the ball to start the half, but still looked like the team that played in the 2nd quarter after a delay of game and Martin's rushing being cut short. The punt kicked off a 77 yard drive by the Razorback Offense who had looked outmatched by Marlon Davidson and the Tiger's Defense up to that point, ending in field goal to make the score 17-3.
D.J. Williams was chosen to shake things up for the Tigers, getting 3 carries in a row with 18 yards gained. Bo Nix then took the snap and stood his ground in the pocket until he saw Seth Williams breaking from his marker. Nix launched a 48 yarder to William’s who could’ve walked into the end zone with all the space he had, and put the Tigers up 23-3 before the PAT.
Most PATs are routine, the kicker jogs onto the field, makes the point, and jogs off the field, but this one was special. When Carlson made the kick, Auburn got the record of most consecutive PATs made with this being the 303rd in a row since 2013. The previous record was 302 held by Florida State from 2012-2016.
Auburn’s next drive was all about Anthony Schwartz. Schwartz rushed for 28 yards, and on the next play, caught a 28 yard pass from Nix in a very similar fashion to the Tigers’ last touchdown. Carlson made the PAT to extend the record to 304.
The Offense struggled on the next drive, with D.J. Williams only gaining 5 yards on first down. Bo Nix looked for a pass on second, but was forced to run wide out of the pocket. De’Jon Harris forced a fumble, which was recovered by Arkansas Defensive Tackle McTelvin Agim. The Razorbacks immediately scored a touchdown on a 45 yard pass to make the game 31-10.
The fourth quarter saw the Tigers dominate, scoring 3 touchdowns in their first 3 drives. Bo Nix’s last drive of the game was a show of how well rounded this offense can be, and their ability to get out of difficult situations. D.J. Williams rushed for 3 yards on 1st, but rushed for no gain on 2nd, forcing Nix to pass to Schwartz back to back for 12 and then 9 yards. Nix then passed to Sal Canella for 7, D.J. Williams had another rush for 2 yards, and had Schwartz rush for 1 yard. The Tigers were given 15 yards on a personal foul call against Defensive End Jamario Bell, which was followed by a 15 yard pass to Seth Williams for a touchdown. Unfortunately, Anders Carlson missed the PAT promptly ending the streak of 304 completed.
Joey Gatewood entered the game for the last two drives, and after rushes from Shivers, Williams, and himself, he completed a pass to Jay Jay Wilson for a 17 yard touchdown. Harold Joiner came in for the last drive of the game, and after rushing for 27 yards on 3 attempts, made a 32 yard run for a touchdown to finish the game 51-10.
Gus Malzahn talked about Nix’s “explosive pass plays” and how they open up opportunities for rushing. He also discussed how D.J. Williams came in with some “quality carries” and his ability to push up the field and “fall forward.”
Auburn went 298 yards rushing in 51 attempts while using 8 different players. Kam Martin had the most yards with 84 in 10 attempts, and D.J. Williams had the most carries with 11 resulting in 48 yards. Auburn’s average before playing Arkansas was 230 yards rushing. It’s not like Auburn had it easy against Arkansas rush defense though. Arkansas averaged allowing 155 yards rushing per game, so it is evident that the Tigers can still dominate the ground game without Boobee. When asked about the running back rotation after the game, Kam Martin said, “We knew that different guys were touching the ball, and we trust in all the running backs.” Martin was also asked if there was pressure on the team without Boobee which he answered, “No there wasn’t no pressure, you know. We did it for Boobee today too. I know if he was here today, he would’ve done his thing today.”
Bo Nix completed 12 for 17 passes for a total of 176 yards and three touchdowns. When asked about his 48 yard touchdown pass to Seth Williams in the 3rd quarter he said, “During the second quarter we stalled for a while, and in the 3rd quarter we came back and took some shots at them, so that’s what opened up the running game again. A lot of the good runs come from passes like that, so once we started getting guys down the field, the safeties had to back up, the corners had to back up. They could only play with about six in the box so we could run the ball again.”
The Tigers will face their toughest opposition yet on Saturday when they go to Death Valley to take on undefeated #2 LSU.