AUBURN – Long before he arrived at Auburn last summer, Mike Dyer had proved he was no ordinary running back.
Mike Dyer on the run at Ole Miss/Todd Van Emst photo
At Little Rock Christian Academy, Dyer rushed for more than 8,000 yards in his career, breaking the Arkansas record. He was rated the nation’s top running back prospects, a jewel in a recruiting class rated in the nation’s top five.
But once Dyer arrived at Auburn, running backs coach Curtis Luper says, he showed even more.
“He’s very conscientious,” Luper said. “He wants to be good. He wants to win. He is doing well in school. He’s all we thought he would be and more. There is always that unknown until you get them here and they actually practice and get hit in the mouth. You love it when you are better than they thought they were.”
Dyer has had a growing impact on the No. 2 Tigers as they have moved to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the Southeastern Conference going into Saturday’s homecoming game against Chattanooga.
Even as quarterback Cam Newton has established himself as the runaway leader for the Heisman Trophy, Dyer is on the verge of having the best season of any freshman running back in school history. Through nine games, he has rushed for 723 yards. Bo Jackson holds the freshman record of 829 yards. He and sophomore Onterio McCalebb have combined a dynamic 1-2 punch at tailback.
Dyer says he and his teammates always knew it was more than the Cam Newton Show.
“When the time comes for us to do our part, that’s what we are going to do,” Dyer said. “… It really doesn’t matter what the outsiders say.”
In last Saturday’s 51-31 victory at Ole Miss, Dyer rushed 21 times for 180 yards and scored on a 30-yard run. He averages 80.3 yards per game, fifth best in the SEC. Speedy sophomore Onterio McCalebb averages 61.9 yards per game and a gaudy 8.7 yards per carry. He had a 68-yard run at Ole Miss. A week earlier, he scored the winning touchdown on a 70-yard run in a 24-17 victory over LSU.
“We do what we have to do to win the game,” McCalebb said. “It’s not a one-man team or anything like that. Everybody is in it together.”
Dyer, McCalebb and Newton, who leads the SEC with 124.7 rushing yards per game, create major headaches for defenses. They lead a rushing attack that leads the SEC with 307.7 yards per game.
“I think the three of them have really posed problems for opposing defenses,” Luper said. “Mike is an inside runner and can get the perimeter, too. They have the read option game going. It’s pretty tough. You can sit in the box and try to stop Cam and Onterio will take it 70 on you in a heartbeat.”
Dyer has rushed for 280 yards in the past two games. Luper says his emergence is right on schedule.
“It was our intent to start off slow with him and kind of work him into the offense,” Luper said, “so that the last four or five games of the season we could have him at full strength and he would be able to carry it 24-25 times down the stretch.”
That’s just what Dyer wants. Since his high school days, with more carries he’s been more effective.
“He can finish games,” Luper said. “He needs carries.”