Jarquis Hunter put his name out there with Trey Mason, former Heisman finalist for The Iron Bowl.
The sophomore running back turned in Auburn’s best rushing performance against Alabama since Mason’s 164-yard effort during the legendary 2013 game between the cross-state rivals. Hunter ran for 134 yards to set up the Tigers’ historic rushing performance in their 49-27 loss to the No. 7 Tide on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
“Every time I call my number, I’m going to do my job,” Hunter said. “It doesn’t matter if I am the first or the second; I will do what I have to do.”
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For Hunter, it was the third consecutive 100-yard game to cap off his sophomore season. He had 121 yards against Teas A&M two weeks ago and 109 yards in last week’s win against Western Kentucky. He made his best save of the final season against Alabama, averaging 12.2 yards per carry for Auburn’s rushing offense that had its most productive performance against the Alabama defense in the Nick Saban era. The Tigers finished with 318 rushing yards against the Tide, surpassing the previous record of 302 rushing yards allowed by Alabama under Saban. That was, of course, the infamous Georgia Southern game, when Saban then memorably said the Eagles ran through the tide “like shit through a tin horn.”
There was no such hustle from Saban on Saturday, only reverence for Auburn’s speedy offense.
“I’ll tell you: Auburn did a great job on the running game,” Saban said. “They created some edges. Some of the plays they ran – you know, when I was 10, we were running the single wing. You guys don’t even know what the single wing is. But that was my first football…. I haven’t seen those since. Pop Warner….they really attacked us on the edge and did a good job of breaking through and keeping us from the edges.”
Besides Hunter’s big game, Robbie Ashford also eclipsed the 100-yard mark against Alabama. Auburn’s quarterback had 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns, becoming the first Tiger to score that many rushing points in an Iron Bowl since Cadillac Williams in 2003. His 100-yard fencing effort also gave Auburn three consecutive games with that many 100-yard rushing games For the first time in program history; Hunter and Tank Bigsby have both rushed over 100 yards in the past two weeks.
For Hunter, Saturday’s Iron Bowl was the culmination of a strong finish to his sophomore campaign, as he finished the season with 675 receiving yards—418 of them coming in the last month of the season, after Williams took over as interim coach and Auburn returned to imposing its will on opponents on the ground. If Auburn was playing “big football” last month, Hunter’s efforts sum it up, as he averaged 8.5 yards in November.
His 134 yards was the second most against Alabama this season, behind Ole Miss running back Qunishon Judkins’ 135 yards. Hunter came on 14 touch-less.
Even after an unfortunate fumble—when he lost the ball after colliding against tight end John Samuel Schenker—Williams was sure to welcome Hunter to the sidelines with words of encouragement and didn’t hesitate to return to the second on the first play of Auburn’s next drive. Hunter caught 19 yards on that play.
“Let me tell you something—I pray, you know, that Cole and Quinn, my two sons have that kind of attitude, his work ethic,” Williams said. “This guy is special, hell, he’s not just talked about on the field; I’m talking about the way he treats people, the way he goes about his work, how kind he is to people, and what a great teammate he is.”
Special is one Williams used shortly after he was promoted to interim head coach on Halloween. Hunter and Bigsby — fully aware that his intent was to rely on the running game for the last four games — sat down and told the linebackers that he needed to be special for Auburn to stand a chance of finishing his season strong.
The tandem delivered, as Auburn finished the year with a four-game winning streak with at least 250 rushing yards. It was the first time the Tigers had achieved this in four games late in the 2013 national runner-up campaign.
“These guys can be that light, that spark plug,” said Williams. “It can be that positive energy that we need — not just at the games, but Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. I told them guys, the team will go as you guys go. They’re both guys, man, selfless guys “They work so well together. It’s amazing to watch both of them. It’s great to know kind of the way they feed off of each other, because—moons ago—I went through that once. So, that’s very good.”
While Williams recalled his time sharing a background with Ronnie Brown in the early 2000s, Auburn’s backfield future appears to be in good hands with Hunter, especially if Bigsby chooses to declare for the NFL draft now that the season is complete.
“I work hard,” Hunter said. “I go out there and work hard every day. I want to be the best on the field, so I go out there and work hard.”
Tom Green is the Auburn win correspondent for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @employee