Auburn football: It shouldn’t matter who starting running back is, really

JaTarvious Whitlow has been one of Auburn's top performers this season. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
JaTarvious Whitlow has been one of Auburn's top performers this season. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images) /

The Auburn football team has a leading rusher. The Auburn football team has three running backs with at least 21 carries in three seasons.

But the Auburn football team doesn’t have a true starting running back. Even though redshirt freshman JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow leads the team in carries (44), yards (254) and yards per game (84.6), he is not listed as the starting running back.

Last week against LSU, Kam Martin was listed as the starter, but Shaun Shivers was on the field for the first play and carried the ball. Martin ran just two times.

But Gus Malzahn isn’t ready to call Whitlow his starter.

That irritates some Auburn football fans.

It shouldn’t.

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Does it really matter who the starter is?

It matters who the starting quarterback is. It matters which five players start across the offensive line.

Running back?

Not so much.

“Kam Martin, Boobee, Worm (Shaun Shivers), all three of those guys are all competing. Asa Martin, I’ve said before, I think you could see his role increase, too,” Malzahn said this week. “Chip (Lindsey) is exactly right. You go into a game and if somebody gets hot, you stay with them.”

Through three games on the hot-meter:

Week 1: Martin started hot, Whitlow finished hot, Shivers played little.
Week 2: Whitlow hot, Shivers hot, Martin lukewarm.
Week 3: Whitlow hot, Shivers warm, Martin chilly.

Current status:

Hot: Whitlow
Warm: Shivers
Cool: Martin

Could that change after the game against Arkansas on Saturday? Absolutely. But while the Razorbacks haven’t looked great this season, they have been good against the run, allowing just 87.3 yards per game.

Auburn learned the hard way last season how difficult it is to recover when you rely heavily on one back and then that one back is hurt and tries to play at less than 100 percent. Kerryon Johnson ran the ball 285 times last season. Kam Martin ran 74 times. Kam Pettway ran 76 times but didn’t play in Auburn’s final six games.

Johnson averaged 23 carries per game in 2017. Whitlow is averaging 14.

Keep them fresh. Keep them healthy.

It doesn’t matter who the designated starter is as long as the offensive line is blocking and the running backs are finding holes, hitting them and picking up yards — more yards than they have through three games.

Don’t forget about Asa Martin, Malik Miller and Harold Joiner.

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Auburn is as deep as its been in years at running back and Malzahn and Lindsey are smart for keeping different players in the mix.

Do all signs point to Whitlow being “the guy” when push comes to shove?


But if something happens, it’s better to have options and the Tigers are establishing those.