SEC key players: Tailbacks run into rivalries with dreams of ups

SEC key players: Tailbacks run into rivalries with dreams of upset

Kamyrn Pettway is banged up, but he's going to have to play like he's not to have a chance against Bama. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) Kamyrn Pettway is banged up, but he's going to have to play like he's not to have a chance against Bama. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Jordan Scarlett's back-to-back 100-yard performances have given Florida some offensive consistency. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Jordan Scarlett's back-to-back 100-yard performances have given Florida some offensive consistency. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(RNN) – Legends are made on rivalry weekend.

The Iron Bowl is no exception to that rule. The Alabama and Auburn halls of fame are decorated with the faces of players who have changed the course of their bitter rivalry, and, often consequently, altered the course of college football history.

This year’s showdown in Tuscaloosa won’t be a veritable play-in game for the College Football Playoffs like it has in the past, but there’s still pride and bowl implications at play.

While a loss wouldn’t end the Crimson Tide’s bid for a third-straight playoff appearance, a win would better the Tigers’ case for a place in the Sugar Bowl.

If Auburn does want to sweeten their post-season prospects, Kamryn Pettway is going to have to find pay dirt against a stingy Bama defense, and that seems unlikely.

There’s another team in the SEC vying for a Sugar Bowl bid this weekend, too.

The Gators will travel north on Interstate 10 to the state capital in Tallahassee this weekend to play in-state, out-of-conference rival Florida State. After an emotionally exhausting game last weekend against LSU, that won’t be an easy task. Florida has, after all, lost their last three outings against the Seminoles.

The Gators are an eight-point underdog, and it’s going to be up to another running back, Jordan Scarlett, to carry his team to victory.

Auburn Tigers at Alabama Crimson Tide

On the Alabama side of the ball, a lot of people are pegging true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts to the be the player to watch. He’s unproven, some say. He’s never been in an Iron Bowl, others add.

But it’s not Hurts, or any of the Alabama players, they should be worried about.

Pettway is going to be the most important player on the field Saturday. That’s to say that his performance will be most directly tied to his team’s chance at victory.

The sophomore phenom has been lights out in the latter half of the season. He’s put up some gaudy performances, like his 236-yard field day against Ole Miss or his 192-yard spectacle against Arkansas.  

But he’s also been haggled by injuries along with several other key players on Auburn's offense. When he sat out his team’s last rivalry game against Georgia, the Tigers looked lethargic on offense and eventually lost to the rebuilding Bulldogs.

The sophomore is going to play in the Iron Bowl, but he’s still not 100 percent according to head coach Gus Malazhan. That’s not good news.

What’s more is that the defenses Auburn faced in the latter half of their schedule were nothing like what Pettway will face on Saturday.

The Tide is only giving up about 69 yards a game on the ground. The only similarly talented defense Pettway has lined up against this season is LSU, and he only rushed for 61 yards on 17 carries in that game.

Basically, a battered running back who is unproven against elite defenses is Auburn’s only chance of felling the mighty Crimson Tide.

Crazier things have happened.

Florida Gators at Florida State Seminoles 

In his team's dramatic victory against LSU last weekend, Scarlett probably didn't catch anyone's eye. 

The tailback only racked up 108 yards and no touchdowns, but that needs to be put into perspective: that's a heckuva day for a Florida offensive player. He's eclipsed 100 yards two games in a row as well, cementing his status as the go-to guy in the backfield. 

In his two years as head coach, Jim McElwain, a supposed offensive guru, has been unable to field an effective attack, but the Gators scrape by with impeccable defensive play. 

And nothing aides and abets a good defense better than a consistent running game. 

So, while Scarlett's performance may seem lukewarm, it added much-needed consistency against a tough LSU defense. 

Plus, who else is Florida going to call on? Backup quarterback Austin Appleby only completed 7 of 17 passes last week.

McElwain is going to need to call his sophomore tailback's number a lot this weekend. Florida State's offense is no slouch with tailback Dalvin Cook in the backfield, and the Gators' defense is still suffering from injuries on its front seven. 

Copyright 2016 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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