Auburn RB Kamryn Pettway turns back clock with best performance of frustrating 2017

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — “Bubba” is back. “The Moose” is loose again. He’s returned to bruising and cruising through defenses for Auburn football.

Whatever nickname — or headline idea — one wants to use, the message is the same. After a frustrating first seven contests, Auburn’s Kamryn Pettway finally looked like the running back who led the SEC in rushing yards per game last year.

Pettway carried the ball 11 times for 90 yards and 3 touchdowns Saturday night in Auburn’s 52-20 rout of Arkansas. As much as it was a bounce-back performance for Auburn’s offense, it was doubly so for Pettway, who only had 13 yards on 9 carries in the previous four weeks combined.

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“It was good to get Pettway back out there,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He’s getting closer to 100 percent, and he ran hard.”

Pettway brought some explosion back to the Auburn offense, which was a surprising development for the junior running back. The 235-pound Pettway had been limited for most of the season with various lower leg injuries and hadn’t shown good burst out of the backfield.

Seven of his 11 carries against Arkansas, though, went for 5 or more yards — well over the average mark he’d been at for most of the 2017 season. That included a 38-yard touchdown run in which he weaved his way through the Arkansas defense.

“I’m happy that he was back in his element, running the football physically and demanding more yards,” sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham said. “He did a great job tonight.”

Pettway, who was not available for interviews after the game, was productive alongside fellow junior running back Kerryon Johnson for the first time in more than a year.

While the carries were mostly split between the two halves for the two backs, they both reached the 60-yard mark — something they hadn’t done in the same game since a Week 4 win vs. LSU in 2016.

On top of that, Pettway still wasn’t 100 percent, according to Malzahn. Pettway is one of several Tigers who will savor the upcoming off week for Auburn, which plays Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama in November.

“He’s a really tough guy, and obviously it hasn’t always gone as expected this year,” senior offensive lineman Austin Golson said. “But I know I have confidence in him and all his teammates have confidence in him. When he gets back to 100 percent, he’s going to be great, like he was tonight.”

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Even as he works his way back to full recovery, Pettway still was able to look like the old Pettway for the first time in 2017.

He hadn’t rushed for multiple touchdowns against a Power 5 opponent since another rout against Arkansas last season. That came in the middle of a historic four-game stretch in which Pettway rushed for at least 169 yards in every contest.

While it’s hard to imagine Pettway putting up those numbers down the stretch in 2017 — especially with Johnson leading the nation in rushing touchdowns — Auburn saw flashes of that dominant running back in Razorback Stadium.

“He ran with good pad level,” Malzahn said. “He broke some tackles, he kept his feet going, and he kinda looked like where he was in that time last year — that stretch when he was really running well.”

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