AUBURN, Ala. – Well, he won’t reach his stated preseason objective.
“My personal goal – I set goals high for myself – I feel like I want to bring 1,500 yards,” Auburn sophomore running back Tre Mason said on July 11. “Because I know that I really want to make it big in life.”
Mason, however, has had an impressive season, considering the circumstances. He’s carried 150 times for 920 yards, the most impressive figure in the SEC’s second-worst offense.
Forget the 1,500 yards. The number Mason seeks is 80, the number of yards it will take in Auburn’s season finale Saturday in the Iron Bowl against No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa to give the Tigers sophomore his first 1,000-yard rushing season.
“It would mean a lot to me,” junior fullback Jay Prosch said. “I take a lot of pride in the people who run behind me and their accomplishments. So hopefully he’ll get that.”
It won’t be easy. The Crimson Tide’s rush defense (75.6 yards allowed per game) ranks third in the country. In 25 games over the past two seasons, only five opposing teams have rushed for 100 yards or more. Only one individual (LSU’s Jeremy Hill) has topped the century mark this year, though he needed 29 hauls to reach 107 yards.
“This is a big, powerful, stout front,” Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. “They understand their job, they play great team defense, they play together as a unit … We have to manufacture yards in the run game as best as we possibly can.”
On Auburn’s side of the ball, Mason has churned out yards in chunks against non-conference foes to inflate his season numbers, but it’s been bits and pieces in seven SEC defeats.
He wrested the starter’s job from veteran Onterio McCalebb with a three-game stretch against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M when Mason’s production stayed consistent – 82, 85 and 80 yards respectively, with at least a touchdown in each game.
But that’s been Mason’s ceiling within the league. He was only given 23 carries in the first three league games, barely getting over 100 yards in that stretch, and was stifled two weeks ago by Georgia (11 rushes, 33 yards) in between picking on New Mexico State and Alabama A&M for dominant performances.
Mason’s rushing average against the SEC is 4.9 yards per carry, but Alabama has smothered opposing backs into 2.3 yards a try. If Mason split the difference at around 3.6 yards, he would need 22 carries – matching his season and career high – to reach the 1,000-yard mark.
“It starts with our offensive line,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. That’s a very, very talented, physically-strong front seven. It’s just hard to line up and run the ball at that front seven with a traditional running game.”
The structure of that offensive line isn’t set in stone. Right guard Chad Slade moved over to left tackle, as Greg Robinson was benched for the first time this year and Christian Westerman got his first crack as a starting guard.
“Our offensive line is going to have to have the best game that they have played all year to give Tre Mason or anybody else that touches the ball a chance to run it,” Chizik said. “Obviously, we know that Tre has to have an opportunity to get in there and run it some.”
The normally talkative Mason wasn’t available for interviews this week leading up to the Iron Bowl. He’s attempting to become the Tigers’ fifth 1,000-yard rusher in Chizik’s four seasons and the 22nd in school history.
“Tre is exactly like a little brother to me,” McCalebb said. “He works hard every day. I think he’ll get that (milestone) on Saturday. Everybody on offense knows who we’ve got to get it to once we get down there.”
Since 2000, the last nine Tigers to rush for 1,000 yards in a season
2011 | Michael Dyer, 1,242
2010 | Cam Newton, 1,473
2010 | Michael Dyer, 1,093
2009 | Ben Tate, 1,362
2005 | Kenny Irons, 1,293
2004 | Carnell Williams, 1,165
2003 | Carnell Williams, 1,307
2002 | Ronnie Brown, 1,008
2000 | Rudi Johnson, 1,567