NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Time has healed significant wounds for Auburn quarterback Sean White and the Tigers’ offense, which anticipates a return to prolific midseason form against No. 7 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
“That makes me excited and makes a lot of other people excited, too,” Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson said before practice in New Orleans on Saturday. “Obviously, we can do a lot of great things when we are healthy.”
No. 17 Auburn (8-4) fell in the AP poll from No. 8 during November because of losses in its final two Southeastern Conference games against Georgia and Alabama . Power runner Kamryn Pettway wasn’t able to play against Georgia because of a leg injury and tried to come back for the Iron Bowl, but managed only 17 yards on 12 carries. White missed Auburn’s final two regular season games with a throwing shoulder injury.
Oklahoma linebacker Jordan Evans said the Sooners are well aware of how a healthy Pettway, who rushed for 1,123 yards and seven touchdowns, will make defending Auburn tougher in the Superdome on Monday night.
“He is a good back and does a lot of great things for them, which is going to be a good challenge for me,” Evans said, adding that he noticed Pettway wasn’t playing or was limited during Auburn’s last two losses.
Added Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, “Pettway is obviously a big part of what they do.”
Sometimes, there is subterfuge regarding the health of key personnel during bowl season, but it certainly sounds like White and Pettway will be ready to go against the Sooners (10-2).
“Coming back to practice, I hadn’t noticed any pain and didn’t have to hold back,” said White, who passed for 1,644 yards and nine touchdowns this season, but hasn’t played a live snap in about seven weeks. “I can make any throw out there.”
The 6-foot, 240-pound Pettway speaks similarly about his own health, and adds that he’s “real motivated” to help the Tigers, who scored only 19 points in their final two SEC games combined, showcase an offense as potent as they were a 56-3 demolition of Arkansas in late October.
“Being healthy, 100 percent, that means a lot,” Pettway said. “It’s a total difference. Everyone’s healthy. We’re flying around full-speed.”
And with White’s return, Pettway said, “We have our mojo back. We’re in rhythm. We have chemistry now.”
Oklahoma, which has won nine straight to win the Big 12 Conference, opened as four-point favorites in the Sugar Bowl. Auburn players have embraced the underdog role and project confidence when they mention how they expect to improve over their late-season stumbles based on their current health.
“When I know we have a healthy Sean White and a healthy Kamryn Pettway - all the little nicks and bruises are healed up - I mean, I have full confidence in our offense,” said Johnson, who rushed for 881 yards and 11 TDs this season.
When Auburn strung together six straight victories in the middle of the season to climb into the top 10 in the AP poll, production on offense was a big reason why. Auburn scored 38 or more points in four straight games, including against three conference opponents.
“Anytime you have your first-string running back and first-string quarterback healthy, it’s huge,” Auburn offensive lineman Alex Kozan said. “It was pretty obvious that we were struggling without them. So hopefully we can get back on the right track and start executing again like we were in that six game stretch at the beginning of the season.”
Sooners safety Steven Parker said the style of offense he expects to face is the one that overwhelmed Mississippi State, Arkansas and Mississippi in October.
“They’ve got everybody coming back, everyone’s ready to go so it’s going to be basically the game that everyone’s been waiting for,” Parker said. “We have to be ready.”
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