This is the second in an 11-part series examining each position group ahead of the start of Auburn’s fall camp on Aug. 5. The second installment looks at Auburn’s running backs.
Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin and new offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau spent the spring and summer preaching about controlling games by running the ball. Kiesau referred to star running back Tank Bigsby as a foundational piece for the Tiger program during spring practice.
“You need to have a foundation; you need to put your feet on something, and Tank is a big part of that,” Kiesau told reporters. “I’m excited about it. We’re going to do some things differently to kind of fit his running style.”
Bigsby enters his junior season, coming off being the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2020 while running for 834 yards and five touchdowns. Bigsby averaged 6.04 yards per carry as a freshman. Last season he became the first Auburn player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Kerryon Johnson in 2017. Bigsby ran for 1,099 yards and 10 touchdowns during the 2021 season on the Plains.
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Bigsby’s yard per touch dropped last season from over six yards as a freshman to a little under five in 2021 at Auburn. However, since he arrived on campus, Bigsby was Auburn’s best player on offense and will likely be the man again this season.
Bigsby won’t be alone. Auburn’s running back room also features Jarquez Hunter, who ran for 593 yards last season with three touchdowns. Hunter and Bigsby could provide a dynamic duo to take pressure off whoever wins the starting quarterback battle.
Departed: Shaun Shivers transferred to Indiana at the end of the 2021 season. Shivers had 87 yards and a touchdown last season for the Tigers.
Returning Starter: Tank Bigsby
Other returning players: Jarquez Hunter, Sean Jackson, and Jordon Ingram.
Summer arrivals: Damari Alston
Outlook: There’s no position group more pivotal to Auburn’s success in 2022 than the running backs. With uncertainty at quarterback, the Tigers need Bigsby and Hunter to produce in a big way. Bigsby has stepped up in leadership during the offseason as Harsin told reporters last week in Atlanta during SEC Media Days.
“I think Tank’s one of our most improved guys just as far as the leadership piece. He’s a guy that has really taken it upon himself to make sure he’s ready every single day,” Harsin said. He’s pushed himself, he works, he does extra outside the stuff that we do. I think you guys may have seen some of the videos he’ll post, but every day—he’s come to work every single day; he studies, he’s prepared.”
If Bigsby and Hunter stay healthy with an improved offensive line there’s an opportunity for the Tigers to exceed expectations in Harsin’s second season as the Tigers’ head coach. If the running backs languish Harsin might see his tenure end much sooner than he’d like.
Battle to watch: Bigsby and Hunter are the likely 1-2 punch for the Tigers. Can a third runningback emerge from either Sean Jackson, Jordon Ingram, or freshman Damari Alston? Competition for the carries that Bigsby and Hunter don’t get will be worth watching.
Keep an eye on: Alston enters the program as a highly-touted prospect. It’s tough to play as a freshman in the Southeastern Conference, but his talent is unique. Alston spent the summer working out with Bigsby. He’s a speedy back who doesn’t shy away from contact. Alston could be a future star at Auburn.
Tank Bigsby (6, 213)
Jarquez Hunter (5′10, 202)
Up next: Wide Receiver