For Irons’ sake, hold onto the ball
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kenny Irons has a right to blast Tre Smith today.
Indeed, he had a right to be furious at his fellow running back Saturday.
Auburn had no depth at running back coming into the 49-27 win over Kentucky.
With No. 11 Georgia next week and No. 4 Alabama the week after that, Irons needed a nice break from his 30-plus carry games.
But because of Smith, rest didn't come as quickly as it should have.
Smith, the No. 2 running back for Saturday's game, fumbled two times a week ago against Ole Miss.
The ice he walked on was perilously thin already.
Smith's performance in the opening 15 minutes against Kentucky sealed the deal for Irons.
Auburn's defense forced a Kentucky punt after the game's first three plays.
But instead of giving Auburn good field position, Smith fumbled for the third time in two weeks and Kentucky recovered.
The Wildcats immediately scored, taking a 7-0 lead.
For Irons, that one play changed his entire game.
Instead of having a light workload, Irons ran as much as he's run all year.
In fact, on the Tigers' second scoring drive — a 14-play, 69-yarder — Irons ran the ball 11 times. In the first quarter, he ran 13 times.
That's entirely different from what Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said would happen during his regular Tuesday news conference.
Quoting Tuberville from Tuesday on Irons: "He's ready to go and could carry it 30 times. But I don't care who we're playing — I'd rather him not carry it that many times. I'd rather us have somebody else in the game for a few of those snaps."
It all goes back to Smith.
With Brad Lester out because of a strained groin and Carl Stewart ailing with a badly sprained knee, the ball and Irons' health fell into Smith's hands.
The hero of the Alabama game a long three years ago, Smith has seen his career spiral out of control in the wrong direction.
He's gone from fan hero and starter at the beginning of this season to the scapegoat who sees little playing time.
Smith truly is trying.
As he said Tuesday, he doesn't know what the problem is.
He said he can't remember fumbling so much.
OK, so Auburn ended up winning easily and the number of carries went down for Irons in the second half.
Resting and not getting hit for 30 minutes, though, isn't nearly as nice as taking it easy for most of the game.
Irons had 23 carries for 103 yards, one catch for 18 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, while Smith had 13 for 99.
At some schools, a running back getting 23 carries is a game's worth.
Saturday, it was 24 touches and opportunities for Irons to continue to take a beating, something he didn't totally have to do.
Auburn did have Tristan Davis waiting for carries. He wound up with eight for 162 yards.
Davis isn't Lester or Stewart, but he also isn't Smith.
Davis is versatile. He moved from the secondary to the offensive backfield before moving back to the secondary this season.
And he surely could have taken some of the hits off Irons.
Irons limped into interviews earlier in the week.
He had a bruised quad muscle and was sore from three weeks' worth of heavy work.
There's some doubt that Stewart will be back before the end of the regular season.
Lester could possibly be back by Saturday, but he hasn't seen game action since Oct. 15.
And who does that leave Auburn with? Smith, of course.
Irons had to be in.
Only, he didn't really need to be.
Georgia's rested defense has to be looking forward to seeing Irons now.