If opposing fans thought for one second Auburn might find it a bit more difficult to run the ball without Tre Mason and, to a lesser extent, left tackle Greg Robinson — they were just a bit off the mark.
Through the first two games of the 2014 season, the Tigers have amassed 657 total rushing yards — 302 in a solid 45-20 victory over Arkansas and 355 in Saturday’s 59-13 bulldozing of visiting San Jose State.
All of this without a Heisman Trophy candidate in Mason and an All-American offensive lineman in Robinson.
Instead, Auburn has relied on two senior running backs, each of whom bring their own style of football to the table.
Cameron Artis-Payne is the between-the-tackles player, who has rushed for 289 yards and three touchdowns on 42 carries so far this year. Grant, meanwhile, exploits the perimeter with tremendous speed and vision. The former Alabama signee has 176 yards and a touchdown on 19 totes as well. Throw in the likes of Peyton Barber and Roc Thomas — don’t forget a huge playmaker in Nick Marshall — and it doesn’t really matter who garners the carries for the Tigers.
The Tigers have now earned 200-plus yards on the ground in 13 straight games, including four 300-yard, two 400-yard and two 500-yard performances over that span.
“Overall, I was pleased by how effectively we were able to move the football,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “Another big thing was going 10-of-14 on third down. That was a definite positive, too. It kept the chains moving and kept the drives alive.”
% He Could Go All the Way: Auburn’s special teams unit was — in a word — special on Saturday night against the Spartans.
Early in the second quarter, senior Quan Bray fielded a short punt on his own 45-yard line, eluded a handful of tacklers and raced 55 yards for a score to extend the Tigers’ lead to 28-7.
It was the Orange and Blue’s first punt return TD since Chris Davis housed an 85-yarder against Tennessee last season in a 55-23 road victory.
% Welcome Home: Before the 2014 Tigers took to the field, the Auburn faithful recognized the 2004 squad for its various accolades a decade ago.
The Orange and Blue finished 13-0 that season, winning the SEC Championship and the Sugar Bowl — having been passed over in the BCS title game for USC and Oklahoma.
Plenty of members from the team showed up, including the beloved Tommy Tuberville. The current Cincinnati head coach was atop the Tiger program from 1999-2008 and was the recipient of the loudest cheer from the sellout crowd.
% Like a Roc: The long-awaited debut of Roc Thomas — the Oxford High product and five-star recruit — didn’t fail to meet expectations on Saturday night.
Thomas carried the ball nine times for 51 yards. He scored a touchdown on his first-ever carry from scrimmage, a 3-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
The true freshman showed plenty of speed and the ability to make big-time cuts in space as well.