Auburn’s Chances at Strong Finish Improve With the Return of the Game Changer
Arkansas defenders couldn't keep the bull out of the end zone (photo: Julie Bennett/al.com)
Every now and then there comes along a player who makes a dramatic impact on the success of a football team. Players such as Georgia’s Herschel Walker or Auburn’s Bo Jackson and Cam Newton. Those players helped their teams win championships. Without them, those teams would have probably been mediocre. Those kind of players are what’re called game changers. Players that make those around them better.
Many good teams do well without them, but almost all great teams have someone that plays that role. But what makes someone a game changer? Webster says it’s, “A person or thing that dramatically changes the course, strategy, character, etc., of something.”
That’s exactly what Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway brings to the table—when he’s healthy. I say healthy because the 6′, 230 lb. bruising bull was sidelined for the last part of 2016 and most of 2017.
He hasn’t really been healthy since he pulled his hamstring on what appeared to be a touchdown run against Vandy November 5, 2016. It may seem too simple for some to accept, but that injury seriously affected the Tigers down the stretch. Auburn was not the same dominant team when “the Bull” was out of the lineup.
Consider this, he only started six games in 2016, yet he led the SEC in rushing and was the first Auburn player since Bo Jackson (1985) to post four consecutive 150+ yard games. Despite missing almost half the season he was selected First Team All-SEC. There’s no telling how the Tigers might have finished had he not gone down.
When he’s healthy he bursts through small holes in the line for big gains, often bulling over linebackers or shifting his hips to make would be tacklers miss, and then putting it into overdrive to fly past D-backs in the open field.
This year he has been hampered by plantar fasciitis in addition to an ankle injury sustained against Mercer. An ankle injury is tough on any player because it can linger all season. However, it is particularly tough on a running back as it affects not only speed but the ability to push off and to make cuts.
But it’s the plantar fasciitis that’s really hindered him. For those that don’t know, the injury involves inflammation of a thick flat band or ligament that connects the heel bone to the toes. It supports the arch of the foot. If you strain your plantar fascia, the heel and bottom of your foot will experience excruciating pain when you stand or walk. It takes a lot of rest to heal. I know from experience. I dealt with it for three years without relief because my job required me to be on my feet all day. I can’t imagine how anyone can run on an affected foot much less play football.
It’s nothing short of amazing that he was able to have a big game against Arkansas while still battling the heel pain. Yet for the first time this year, it looked like the old “bull’ was back.
I know it was Arkansas. I get that, I do. But he’s definitely a game changer. When he is at his best, he changes what defenses can do. When he entered the game in the third quarter it was 17–6 when he left at the end of the quarter it was 45–13. He carried the ball 11 times for 90 yards and three touchdowns.
Oh what might have been had he been healthy all year? Could Clemson have held a healthy KP? Could LSU? I don’t think so, but that’s one thing we’ll never know. What we do know is (even though he’s still not 100 percent) if he can stay healthy enough to play like he did Saturday night, Auburn should have a better than average chance to finish strong.