Auburn leading rusher Kam Martin could see role increase vs. Mississippi State

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Auburn leading rusher Kam Martin could see role increase vs. Mississippi State

Kam Martin has, improbably, entered the fifth week of the season as Auburn's leading rusher.

Despite recording carries in just two of the Tigers' first four games and splitting time in a backfield that features last year's SEC leader in rushing yards per game, Kamryn Pettway, and Kerryon Johnson, Martin leads the team with 210 yards on the ground this season. That success could lead to an increased role on offense for Martin when No. 13 Auburn (3-1, 1-0 SEC) hosts No. 24 Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1) at 5 p.m. Saturday.

"It is a possibility, there's no doubt," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "Like I've said before, him not getting the carries as much wasn't a sign of the coaches not having confidence in him. But he will definitely be a part moving forward, and he should be."

Martin has made the most of his opportunities so far this season after entering the year as Auburn's No. 3 running back.

In the season opener against Georgia Southern, Martin rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. The performance came in the wake of tragedy as his family was affected by Hurricane Harvey in Port Arthur, Texas, and it also came when Auburn really needed him. The Tigers were without Pettway for the opener due to suspension, and Johnson injured his hamstring in the first half and didn't return.

Martin didn't record a carry against Clemson or Mercer as he was limited to just one 5-yard reception while Auburn relied exclusively on Pettway out of the backfield.

He returned to the rotation last week at Missouri, when Auburn was again without Pettway, this time withheld due to an ankle injury. The 5-foot-10, 182-pounder split time with Johnson in the backfield and led Auburn in rushing for the game, finishing with 74 yards on nine carries -- including a 47-yarder on a buck sweep to the left side late in the first half.

Martin gets 1st carries since Week 1 as Auburn flexes running back depth vs. Missouri

"I mean, Kam Martin's got it done when he's went out there," Malzahn said. "He had a big explosive run where he cut it back across midfield, had a really good jump-cut in a pace situation the play after that. He's a guy that he performs at a high level when he's in there. He gives us a little bit of a different dimension when he's in there.

"His quickness, his explosiveness, and he runs bigger than he is. He broke a couple of tackles there that we were real impressed with, too."

In the midst of his performance in the SEC opener, Martin "got a little banged up" during the win against Missouri, but Malzahn said he expects the sophomore to be ready to go for this weekend's top-25 matchup at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It is expected to be the first time this season Auburn has each of its top three running backs available, with Malzahn saying there's a "high likelihood" Pettway returns from his ankle injury this week.

While Auburn's backfield should be at full strength with its potent one-two punch of Pettway and Johnson, Martin's value when called upon in relief through the first third of the season has not gone unnoticed.

"It's been very important," Johnson said. "I've always said this: Kam has always been more than capable. He's a great running back. If he was at another place, he'd probably be playing a lot more. But he's a patient guy. Kam just loves to play football. So any chance he gets, he's going to go out there and give it his 100 percent. I think people are seeing that.

"To have a third guy like that and then have a fourth guy like Malik (Miller) and then Devan Barrett comes in and gives us some plays... I mean, that's awesome, just to have that kind of depth so you're not struggling, so you're not panicked."

Tom Green is the Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

from Auburn Sports Impact

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