AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football is calling an audible when it comes to the status of junior running back Kamryn Pettway ahead of its trip to LSU.
The defending SEC champion in rushing yards per game has missed two of Auburn’s last three contests with injury, and he was held to 6 yards on 5 carries in the other game. Pettway dealt with plantar fasciitis in the offseason and suffered an ankle injury in Week 3 against Mercer.
“We’re going to stick to the fact when he’s healthy that we’ll play him,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday. “He’ll practice this week and today, and we’ll see how he is. If he’s healthy, we’ll play him, if not, we’ll hold him out until he is healthy.”
Contrast Malzahn’s Tuesday comments with the ones he made last week, before Auburn’s 44-23 win over Ole Miss in which Pettway didn’t play. Last Tuesday, he said he expected Pettway and the rest of Auburn’s running backs “to be ready to play.” Pettway was the only one to sit.
Over the last three weeks, Auburn hasn’t needed Pettway in the running game. Kerryon Johnson has rushed for 11 touchdowns, pushing him to an FBS-leading 12 on the season. He was named SEC player of the week Monday after breaking the 200-yard mark in a game for the first time in his career.
After Johnson had a career day against Ole Miss, Malzahn said Auburn needed to do something different with Pettway, who barely practiced during the week.
“What we’ve been doing up until this point is not working — where we play him a little bit — and so we just made the decision, we’re going to hold him out,” Malzahn said. “He didn’t hardly do anything at practice. There was a lot of treatment. We’ll do something similar this week and we’ll see where he’s at. When he gets close to 100 percent then we’ll get him back out there and get him going.”
Auburn visits LSU this Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on CBS) and travels to Arkansas next week. The Tigers get a bye week before their trip to Texas A&M to open November, which could be a target date for Pettway’s return.
Pettway’s leg injuries, which started last November with a quad injury against Vanderbilt, worsened after Weeks 2 and 3 of this season.
After sitting out the first game with a suspension, Pettway took every one of Auburn’s running back carries against Clemson and Mercer. He never topped 4 yards per carry in either game, which is something he did in all but two games last season.
Now, looking back, Malzahn said the staff thought it was doing the right thing with Pettway earlier in the season. But with the advantage of hindsight, he’s decided to change course with his star running back.
“As a coach, when you do something for 27 years, just like whatever you do for 15 years, you make decisions that you think is best at that time,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “You always have the ability to look back and say, ‘Well, we probably should have rested him more.’ And kind of like I said last week, whatever we did up to that point wasn’t working. We tried a different approach and said, ‘Let’s get him healthy before we put him back out there.’
“It’s kind of one of those things at the time you make a call, and as a leader that’s part of it. And you make the calls that you think are the best at that time, so that’s probably the best way to answer that.”
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