AUBURN, Ala. (AP) The Auburn Tigers are running wild again, this time with a mostly dropback passer at quarterback and two tailbacks who were virtual unknowns outside the state coming into the season.
The 15th-ranked Tigers, with no Cam Newton or Nick Marshall to bulldoze or dart past defenders, have resurrected their ground game and, in the process, their season with a four-game winning streak .
Even without tailback Kerryon Johnson, Auburn piled up 543 rushing yards in a 56-3 win over Arkansas , a record for a Southeastern Conference game. Now, Auburn ranks third nationally in rushing offense with numbers rivaling the 2013 offense led by the mobile quarterback Marshall and Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason.
That group made the national championship game by becoming the first SEC team to lead the nation in rushing, averaging 328.3 yards and having four players with 600-plus yards. This Auburn team is averaging 302.9 yards on the ground.
Johnson is expected to return from an ankle injury Saturday night against Mississippi.
Quarterback Sean White and backup John Franklin III have both made some plays on the ground but nothing like Marshall or Newton, who won the Heisman in leading the 2010 team to a national title.
''Whoever our quarterback is, we try to design the offense around their strengths,'' Malzahn said. ''There aren't a whole lot of Nick Marshalls running around out there. He was a special player.''
The current ground attack has mostly been built on tailbacks Johnson and Kamryn Pettway. Pettway was moved from H-back in the spring and didn't log a carry last season or in the opener.
With Johnson out with an ankle injury, the 240-pounder has run 66 times for 361 yards and five touchdowns against Mississippi State and Arkansas. He's ranked 12th nationally and leads the SEC in rushing yards per game, gaining 697 yards in six outings.
''I haven't seen a running back like that since like Jerome Bettis,'' Auburn receiver Tony Stevens said. ''That's who he reminds of, Jerome Bettis. The way he just cuts and runs you over. So you never know what you're going to get when you go head up with him.''
Johnson, also a sophomore, is 42nd nationally and sixth in the SEC in rushing with 538 yards.
Tailback was one of the team's biggest question marks entering the season. Last year's top three rushers - Peyton Barber (early draft entry), Jovon Robinson (dismissal) and Roc Thomas (transfer) - were no longer on the team for various reasons.
That left Johnson, often used in a Wildcat role as a freshman, and Pettway. Depth has come from players like freshman Kam Martin, a former Baylor signee, and converted wide receiver Stanton Truitt. Truitt and freshman receiver Eli Stove both ran for long touchdowns against the Razorbacks, with Stove's a 78-yarder on the opening play.
''One of the big questions this year coming into the season was our running back depth,'' Malzahn said. ''I think it was a really good thing moving forward that we had the guys that we had step up. They did a super job running the football and protecting the football, so we definitely have some depth to that position.''
Seven Auburn players have rushed for 100-plus yards, including White and Franklin. The Tigers are averaging 106.5 more rushing yards than last season even minus that team's top three runners.
Now, the Tigers are at least running White enough to make defenses wary, and Franklin has been almost exclusively used as a runner.
''If you keep it every now and then, it really changes things,'' Malzahn said. ''Last year, we didn't do that.''
AP college football web site: www.collegefootball.ap.org