On Saturday, No. 15 Auburn concluded its 2016 home slate by defeating Alabama A&M 55-0 to record its first shutout since Aug. 30, 2008.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game:
1) If Auburn needs Jeremy Johnson to start against No. 1 Alabama, he’ll be ready
The performance came against one of the worst teams in the SWAC, so it has to be taken with a grain of salt. But for a quarterback who hadn’t taken an offensive snap since Sept. 3 and hadn’t started a game in nearly a calendar year, Jeremy Johnson looked very solid against Alabama A&M. The senior completed 14 of 19 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown through the air and added 42 yards and two more touchdowns on six carries, pacing an offense that scored 24 points and gained nearly 300 yards in the first half. Sean White is still Auburn’s best option at quarterback, and after he ranked atop the SEC in completion rating and completion percentage through Auburn’s six-game winning streak, there’s little doubting that. But after Saturday’s game, if White continues to be unable to practice due to a throwing shoulder injury that hampered him against Vanderbilt and Georgia, Auburn at least has a backup option in Johnson capable of playing against Alabama, and perhaps even playing well.
2) Kerryon Johnson got far too many touches against Alabama A&M
Kerryon Johnson is arguably Auburn’s most talented skill position player, and he was clearly the most talented one the Tigers had dressed on Saturday. And on any normal night against any SEC team, there would be no amount of touches too high for the explosive sophomore running back. But against Alabama A&M, too much was put on Johnson’s plate, as he rushed 18 times for 108 yards and a touchdown to go along with two catches for an additional 16. Though coach Gus Malzahn and Johnson both said the right ankle he injured Oct. 8 at Mississippi State is nearing 100 percent, it’s still not there yet. You could see it on a first-quarter run when the sophomore tore through a hole and had a clear path to the end zone before being taken down from behind at the 19-yard line. Johnson eventually came out of the game for good late in the second quarter, but with Kamryn Pettway (left leg), Stanton Truitt (ankle) and H-back Chandler Cox (ankle) all uncertain for the Iron Bowl, giving Johnson a little less work on Saturday would have been beneficial considering how much the Tigers might have to lean on him in Tuscaloosa. Especially given that Kam Martin was able to relieve him and run 21 times for 176 yards in the second half alone.
3) No matter what the offense looks like, Auburn’s defense will keep the Iron Bowl close
When Sean White was playing the best football of his career and Kamryn Pettway was running roughshod over the SEC just a month ago, this season’s Iron Bowl looked like it was shaping up to be one for the ages. Instead, Alabama has already clinched the SEC West, and Auburn could be without both White and Pettway in Tuscaloosa. But regardless of what the Tiger offense looks like, its defense should be able to keep the game close. Alabama has statistically the best offense Auburn has faced this season, but the Tigers have kept nine of 11 opponents to fewer than 19 points this season, and the other two scored 29 each. And against the one other top-10 scoring defense the Crimson Tide has faced this season — LSU — it scored only 10 points. The blue-and-orange Tigers’ offense is far better than that of their purple-and-gold-clad brethren. Auburn didn’t dress linebacker Tre’ Williams and No. 1 corner Carlton Davis on Saturday, and corner Josh Holsey and linebacker Darrell Williams both left with injuries. But all four cases were precautionary, Malzahn said, and there appears a good chance all four will play next week, as will the rest of the top contributors. If that is the case, expect Auburn’s defense to give Alabama as tough a test as it has faced this season.