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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Cameron Artis-Payne came into the season eager to prove he's got speed and Corey Grant aimed to show he has between-the-tackles power.
The two tailbacks for No. 5 Auburn so far have complemented each other nicely and helped the Tigers' running game remain one of the nation's best despite losing Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason.
"I think everybody individually has their reasons why we run the ball so hard and why we say we have a chip on our shoulder," Grant said.
Whatever drives them, it's working. Auburn (2-0) enters Thursday night's visit to No. 20 Kansas State ranked fifth nationally in rushing offense. Artis-Payne stands eighth among individual runners in yards per game.
Coach Gus Malzahn still calls Artis-Payne and Grant Tailbacks 1 and 1A, though the former has gotten twice as many carries.
Mason was a combination of speed and compact power and the kind of workhorse who took over in the Southeastern Conference championship game against Missouri. He and quarterback Nick Marshall were the key cogs for the first SEC offense to lead the nation in rushing.
This season, the speedster Grant has had success running between the tackles. Artis-Payne has flashed some big-play potential on the outside, saying after the San Jose State game that he "wanted to come out and show my speed because everybody says I'm a bruiser."
Malzahn said the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Artis-Payne and Mason, a third-round draft pick by the St. Louis Rams, have a similar style in that regard.
"I think there's probably more similarities than there are differences," the coach said. "Tre was such an exceptional between-the-tackles runner, and I think Cameron has some of those same traits. Cameron also has gotten a little quicker and a little faster from this time last year. He probably lost anywhere from 5-10 pounds, and I really think that's helped him."
Both Artis-Payne and Grant rushed for 600-plus yards last season. Artis-Payne already has 289 yards and four touchdowns, trailing only Georgia's Todd Gurley in the SEC in yards per game.
Grant has topped 80 yards in each of the Tigers' first two games and is averaging 8.8 yards on 20 carries.
Grant's mind-set, though, always goes back to the question he's faced most often: "Can I run between the tackles?"
"Going into every game this year, I'm trying to be a more physical back," he said. "As I'm running the ball, there have been some times where I could have got out of bounds but I'd rather lower my shoulder and try to break that tackle or get two or three more yards."
Grant believes he and Artis-Payne can both run for 1,000 yards this season, and Marshall is a candidate to reach that milestone for the second straight year also.
Plus, freshman Roc Thomas came in as a five-star prospect and gained 51 yards against San Jose State.
The backs as a group still have things to prove: That they can keep piling up yards as the defenses get tougher and thrive in the biggest games like Mason, who didn't start getting much Heisman buzz until his performances against Alabama and Missouri.
Both Grant and Artis-Payne should get plenty of carries in Malzahn's no-huddle offense.
"We've got so many weapons and coach uses everybody," Grant said. "So I think it's hard to stop."
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