The ‘unique ability’ that makes Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson the nation’s top-scoring RB

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football running back Kerryon Johnson has scored 10 touchdowns in the last three games. He’s moved into the top of the FBS in rushing scores, and he’s become the first SEC player in 20 years to rush for at least 3 touchdowns in 3 straight games.

And he’s done it with a hamstring that’s less than 100 percent healthy.

The injury, which Johnson picked up in the second quarter of Auburn’s season opener, kept him out of action for two weeks. The junior hasn’t been able to hit top speed because of it.

But the injury hasn’t affected Johnson’s most valuable skill — his vision. When the spaces get tight near the end zone, Johnson has consistently made the right decisions. According to Gus Malzahn, that gift is rare.

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“I think running backs are born instinctively,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “I mean you can coach landmarks, pressing the line of scrimmage and reading the ‘backers. But my experience is special ones have a unique ability where they can make things right, and they can make good decisions going full speed.”

Is Johnson one of those special backs?

“Kerryon, he’s very special,” junior receiver Ryan Davis said Tuesday. “He’s a different guy. People like him don’t come around too often. But it’s something I’ve seen out of him ever since he was a freshman.”

Others on the offense think so, too.

“Incredible,” junior H-back Chandler Cox said. “I just watch him on film and I see him do all these little juke moves, and his agility is just incredible. I’m just blessed to have him on this team and have him back there in our backfield.”

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Kerryon Johnson
Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson is on one of the best hot streaks in SEC history. (Michael Chang/Getty Images)

Johnson scored 5 touchdowns against Missouri in Week 4, his first game since returning from injury. Four of those touchdown came from close range in Wildcat formations, where the coaching staff has trusted Johnson to handle the ball and find the right lane in tense situations.

“That’s a lot of pressure,” Johnson said last month. “You got to call out the plays, make sure everybody is lined up, make sure you do everything, pre-snap procedures, right. So it’s a lot of pressure. But I’ve been doing this since sophomore or freshman year of high school. So it’s not that big a deal to me anymore.”

The wildcat touchdowns, which continued into a Week 5 rout of Mississippi State, took advantage of Johnson’s vision while his legs were less than 100 percent.

That changed in Week 6 against Ole Miss, when Johnson rushed for more than 200 yards for the first time in his career. He never slowed down on a 48-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

“At Missouri, he had a couple of chances to really hit some seams and really turn on the gas, but he didn’t repull his hamstring, so he kind of geared it down,” Malzahn said. “Against Mississippi State a time or two, you saw him break, and he kind of geared it down and then last week when he broke he was able to turn it loose. You can see he’s getting healthier.”

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After the Ole Miss game, Johnson said he felt close to 100 percent, but he still had some room to improve in terms of health.

That didn’t stop him from powering through tackles against Ole Miss, including four on one of his first carries of the game.

“For him, to show his physicality and his vision and his burst and stuff like that — and he’s not even 100 percent — it shows a lot about him,” Davis said. “You can only imagine what he can do when he’s 100 percent.”

Malzahn has coached several prolific college running backs in the past, including Darren McFadden, Michael Dyer, Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Peyton Barber.

And even though Johnson hasn’t been the No. 1 running back option on his team until now, thanks in part to nagging injuries for Kamryn Pettway, Malzahn thinks his “special ability” can put him in that mix.

“He’s pretty good,” Malzahn said. “I mean, I’ve been blessed to coach a lot of good ones, but I’d say he’s right up there.”

The post The ‘unique ability’ that makes Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson the nation’s top-scoring RB appeared first on SEC Country.

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