Kerryon for Heisman?
Following another fantastic performance Saturday against Ole Miss, the talk started quietly but has slowly begun to get louder …
Kerryon Johnson for Heisman.
Obviously, the idea will be startling to a lot of college football fans. After all it wasn’t Kerryon Johnson who was on the preseason Vegas Heisman board, though Auburn had two other players in the top odds in quarterback Jarrett Stidham and running back Kam Pettway. But Auburn’s offense didn’t really get clicking, especially the passing game, until recent weeks, and the eleven-sack game against Clemson essentially wrecked any chance Stidham had at staying in the spotlight.
Of course, a Heisman dark horse quarterback from Auburn to exit stage left in the first month of the season isn’t something new for Auburn fans, but to be fair to Stidham, it wasn’t all his fault. Play calling and a terriblly inept offensive line killed any chance he may have had.
On the other hand, Kam Pettway’s being suspended for the first game of the season and his nagging injuries opened the door for Johnson. So did the coaching staff’s obvious focus on K. J., a fact discussed on the Track ‘Em Tigers Podcast multiple times.
If you haven’t heard my or host Derrick Roberts’ thoughts on the subject, we believe the coaching staff has had an almost unhealthy fascination in getting Kerryon the ball. The term “unhealthy” isn’t hyperbole, either, as Johnson hasn’t been 100 per cent, even by the coaches’ sometimes ambiguous definition.
Even looking to be about 80 percent, Johnson ran roughshod over an ailing Ole Miss squad. He stiff armed opponents and ran over them. Yet, he seemed to be most effective with plays in space rather than between the tackles. After he posted 204 rushing yards (bringing his total to 504 with a 5.9 average), the talk of Kerryon for Heisman began.
It is worth mentioning that Ole Miss and Missouri rank 110th and 111th in total defense while Mississippi State is a more than respectable 17th. The Maroon Bulldogs check in at 41st in scoring defense while Ole Miss and Missouri bring up the rear at 121st and 118th. Johnson has scored 11 of his 12 touchdowns against these three opponents.
The real test may come when the Tigers play LSU. Auburn hasn’t won in Baton Rouge since 1999, and no current Auburn football player remembers the last time Auburn won in Red Stick. Last year’s game against the Bayou Bengals was the starting point of Auburn’s six-game winning streak and was the Les Miles’ last game as coach. Auburn leaned heavily on Kerryon in that touchdown-less game as he gave one of his best performances of the year, leading the team with 93 yards rushing.
This year’s LSU’s defense checks in at 26th overall. Importantly, LSU is only 52nd against the run, mostly due to the 191 yards that Troy’s Jordan Chunn racked up against the Tigers.
With Kam Pettway’s status in question, it is likely that Johnson will again be the bell cow. A big game here could go a long way to putting Johnson in the Heisman discussion. Does he have a legitimate chance at winning the most coveted individual award in college football? Let’s look in depth at his numbers and compare them to other top-flight backs across college football.
The first name that comes to mind when discussing Heisman-caliber backs has to be Stanford’s Bryce Love. “The human first down” averages over ten yards per touch and has run for 1,240 yards and nine TDs, never gaining less than 150 yards a contest. His yardage is the best in the nation, and his nine trips to the end zone has him tied for 4th, just behind Oregon’s Royce Freeman with ten TD’s. (Freeman also leads the Ducks with 654 yards for 12th-ranked 6.5 yards per rush, despite being held to just 33 carries over the last three games due to injuries).
The next name that comes to mind is San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny. The senior has 993 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Penny hasn’t been held under 100 yards rushing this season and also has at least two receptions (16 total) – in all but the season’s first game. San Diego State has a stingy defense, but Penny is the main reason for the Aztecs’ surprising Top 25 ranking.
Of course, none of these players have to play SEC caliber defenses even those as bad as Ole Miss and Missouri. In the SEC only Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Kentucky’s Benny Snell are ahead of Johnson in yardage. Chubb’s numbers are impressive as his eight touchdowns come off of 600 yards on 91 carries. Snell has done it with pure volume, and his 123 carries rank him among the top five in college football.
From an efficiency standpoint, Alabama’s Damian Harris ranks high in the SEC. His 59 carries for 500 yards and seven touchdowns are just below Johnson’s 75 carries for 504 yards. However, Harris has been overshadowed by his quarterback, Jalen Hurts, who is near the top of the list despite not being a running back. Hurts is tied for 24th with 69 rushes for 517 yards and five touchdowns. Opponents fear of Hurts has surely helped Harris’ stats.
In the end, the big names at the top won’t live up to scrutiny. Love’s Stanford team already has two losses to Penny’s SDSU and USC. Penny is going to have a monster year, but the Aztecs do not play any more ranked teams. Likewise, Royce Freeman and the Ducks have two losses in the PAC-12 and likely won’t even make an appearance in their conference championship.
Auburn may have a loss, but that loss is to a top-three Clemson. Additionally, the Tigers still have two of the top five teams in the country to play in Georgia and Alabama and their Heisman candidates, Nick Chubb and Jalen Hurts, respectively. All Johnson needs is to make it to those games undefeated and healthy, and that starts this weekend against SEC West rival, LSU.