ATHENS ― Auburn tailback Kerryon Johnson burned Georgia in the first matchup between the two teams. One of the major storylines for the second one, in SEC Championship Game on Saturday, will be whether Johnson can take the field for the game.
Johnson left Auburn’s game against Alabama last Saturday with a right shoulder injury. Two days later, during a media teleconference to preview the SEC championship, Johnson said he was “just banged up” and hoped to be able to play.
“I’m working this week to get back to as healthy as I can be, obviously,” Johnson said. “We’ve been working for this game for a long time, so I’m doing everything I can to get back out there on the field. It’s football. This is week whatever it is, everyone’s banged up. Just got to get back healthy week after week.”
Johnson said he’s putting a lot of ice on his shoulder and doing “normal rehab” this week. He also seemed amused when a reporter, trying to delve into the injury, asked whether he could feel the injury in his shoulder.
“It didn’t fall off, I can feel it,” Johnson said. “Obviously it’s sore, but shoot, I’m sore after every game, and so is everybody else. So it’s nothing more different than any other week.”
Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham said he felt “very confident” that Johnson would be able to play. Auburn linebacker Tre’ Williams made it sound as if he had no doubt.
“Oh yeah, Kerryon is really tough, man. That’s something we look up to him for,” Williams said. “Just all in all, you know he’s going to play. Because it’s the first time he’s going to play in the SEC championship, and he’s not going to let this opportunity pass.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart also said he “fully expects” Johnson to play, though added that he would prepare for either possibility.
“They’ve got other backs who are good ― probably not as good as Kerryon ― but they’ve got other backs who are good SEC backs,” Smart said.
Johnson is the SEC’s second-leading rusher despite missing two games this season. He has 1,276 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging 25 attempts per game.
Johnson was a workhorse in Auburn’s 40-17 win over Georgia, carrying it 32 times for 167 yards. The Tigers rushed it 46 times overall in that game, only needing quarterback Jarrett Stidham to attempt 25 passes.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, speaking before practice on Sunday night, said Johnson going down the second time ― without being hit ― was probably a “culmination” of the injuries during the game.
Malzahn was a little less sure than Williams that Johnson would go.
“I think probably everybody in the country has seen the courage he showed the last five [games] ― really ever since he came back from his hamstring injury ― his toughness, his courage and everything that goes with it,” Malzahn said. “So I know that physically, if he can, he will. But I’m just ― we’re not ready to say that yet. We’ll just have to wait later in the week on where he’s at.”
Johnson also explained what happened when he left the game for the final time. After getting the shoulder treated in a medical tent on the sideline, Johnson returned to the game but on his final carry just hit the ground in the backfield without being hit, dropping the ball.
“I made a mistake on my part, I reached out with the wrong arm trying to get that touchdown [a few plays earlier], just kind of got it hit and banged up,” Johnson said. “And it didn’t feel that great on that run, and I figured we kind of had the game in control, so no need to push it. So it’s just a little banged up. Happens. Just got to heal up this week and get back out there this Saturday.”