JaTarvious Whitlow has proven he’s as good as anyone in the SEC when he’s at his best.
Auburn intends to keep him that way — at his absolute best.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said he’s limited Whitlow’s carried and picked his spots to unleash Auburn’s secret weapon from LaFayette, spreading carries around among the running backs in recent games with eyes on keeping Whitlow’s legs fresh in games and down the long road ahead.
Whitlow scored three touchdowns on nine carries in the first half of Auburn’s rout of Mississippi State last Saturday — and then took just one more carry in the second half before shutting down for Florida.
“We tried to let some other running backs touch it,” Malzahn said after that win. “We understand the long-haul journey and the volume of hits and everything that goes with it with running backs.”
Whitlow’s averaging 92.6 yards per game, down to sixth on the SEC’s rushing leaders list after getting only those 10 carries last Saturday — but volume only paints part of the picture. With Malzahn picking his spots, Whitlow’s rolled up seven touchdowns this season, to make him the SEC’s leader in scoring among running backs.
He was the SEC’s second-leading rusher last week, nearing or topping 100 yards in all of Auburn’s first three games, and he’s dropped on the charts after taking on lighter workloads in the last two weeks — but, Whitlow would surely say, what matters is that his team is 5-0.
In Auburn’s win Sept. 21 at Texas A&M, Auburn schemed around Texas A&M’s vaunted rush defense, jumping out to a big lead while hardly running the ball up the middle with Whitlow. That scheme paid double dividends when, in the fourth quarter as Auburn tried to waste away the clock and nurse that big lead, Whitlow was fresh and ready to charge into the game near full force.
Whitlow had just two carries that resulted in minus-four rushing yards in the first half of that game, as Auburn went into the half up 14-3.
He rolled up 71 yards on 16 carries in the second half, carrying Auburn on a game-icing, 12-play, 69-yard scoring drive in the fourth that saw Whitlow carry the ball eight times on the series.
His fresh legs made a difference then, his teammates agreed — and certainly again against Mississippi State when he scored three touchdowns in the first two quarters.
Malzahn plans to keep those legs fresh.
“I think if you really look at the totality of our schedule and everything that goes with it, we just made the decision that, hey, we’re going to have to spread some carries out and keep our guys fresh — specifically, Boobee’s fresh for the second half of the season, too,” Malzahn said, using Whitlow’s nickname. “It’s been really good to give some other guys some carries, and I think they responded well.”
Senior Kam Martin leads the running backs as a unit. He scored a touchdown in Auburn’s win over Mississippi State. Whitlow has 463 rushing yards on 92 carries, with Martin next boasting 145 rushing yards on 29 carries. Sophomore speedster Shaun Shivers has taken 27 handoffs for 144 yards. Freshman D.J. Williams got his first carries against Mississippi State — tallying seven carries for 32 yards.
With a full stable of backs at full speed, Auburn’s bent on making the most out of every one.
As the SEC schedule heats up, the Tigers will likely have to do just that.