The 'One-One Punch'
Tank Bigsby had the best Week 1 performance of any FBS running back. Jarquez Hunter was one of just five players to score three rushing TDs. Expect even more from them.
RB Tank Bigsby (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
After spending the entire offseason saying that they would build their scheme around their top two running backs, the braintrust behind Auburn’s offense put their money where their mouth is the opener last Saturday.
The Tigers ran 62 plays in their 42-16 win over FCS opponent Mercer. Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter carried the ball 24 times, combining for 181 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
In their 14th game together, Bigsby and Hunter combined for their second-most yards a combo. They were close to the top spot, as they had 182 yards — albeit 164 from Bigsby and just 18 from Hunter — in Auburn’s 21-17 road loss at South Carolina last November. They had never scored four touchdowns as a pair in a single game and had combined for three touchdowns just once before.
Bigsby had the lion’s share of the carries, toting the ball 16 times for 147 of those yards. But Hunter cashed in with a trio of touchdowns on just eight carries, becoming one of just five FBS players who scored three times on the ground in Week 1.
Both running backs had explosive touchdown runs with a string of broken tackles and some impressive vision. Hunter scored on the first drive of the game from 19 yards out, while Bigsby had a 39-yard touchdown after a lengthy lightning delay.
“Those two guys are a one-two punch, and I really want to say one-one punch, because they both can be explosive in different aspects,” quarterback T.J. Finley said Saturday night. “But those guys are very good at complementing each other. Those guys are very good at supporting each other. And to see those guys grow together is a sight to see.”
After a 2021 season in which the Tigers threw the ball more than they ran it, Auburn opened the 2022 season by having rushing attempts on 66.1% of its offensive snaps against Mercer. The only higher rate so far in the Bryan Harsin Era came in a blowout win over Alabama State (67.2%), and there was only one other time — the Iron Bowl — in which Auburn even hit 60% in its run-pass balance.
Bigsby and Hunter weren’t alone in their efforts in the opener. Backup quarterback Robby Ashford opened the ground game up even more with six carries for 68 yards, including a 49-yarder. True freshman Damari Alston, the No. 3 running back in the room, got four carries in the second half.
And wide receivers Ja’Varrius Johnson, Koy Moore, Tar’Varish Dawson Jr. and Malcolm Johnson Jr. all got a carry for an offense that wants to get the ball into the hands of its playmakers in a wider variety of ways.
But the bulk of the work went to Bigsby and Hunter, who laid the foundation for what you might see from the Tigers’ offense throughout the 2022 campaign.
“We want to run the football,” Harsin said after the Mercer game. “You’ve got Robby — he came into things well. So if we can run the ball like that, be effective, spread it out a little bit, and then hit some shots and some of those things like we did tonight, that seemed really effective.
“But overall, you start with running the ball.”