Auburn Florida Football

Auburn running back JaTarvious Whitlow (28) gets past Florida defensive lineman Luke Ancrum (98) for yardage during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

AUBURN – Kam Martin got the news earlier than most, on Tuesday morning.

That was when he opened a text message from running backs coach Carnell Williams.

“Pray for Boobee,” it said. “He’s having surgery.”

Auburn’s standout sophomore running back JaTarvious Whitlow is out four to six weeks with a knee injury, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn announced on Tuesday evening, sending another shockwave through the athletics complex as the Tigers recover from their first loss of the season at Florida and work to regroup during a bye this week.

Whitlow was injured late in the Florida game, Malzahn said, but he didn’t know the severity of the injury at the time. He woke up Sunday with stiffness in his knee and was evaluated before it was decided he’d have surgery on Tuesday.

“It sucks,” said Martin, Auburn’s senior running back and the veteran leader of that group. “Boobee is one of our guys.

“We’ve just got to step up.”

Whitlow leads Auburn with 544 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 110 carries this season. He’s averaged 90.7 rushing yards per game through Auburn’s 5-1 start.

Auburn is off this weekend before the team returns to the field Oct. 19 at Arkansas.

Martin has rushed for 174 yards on 34 carries this year while sophomore Shaun Shivers has rushed for 144 yards on 27 carries.

“He’s an impact player. I think everybody knows that,” Malzahn said of Whitlow, always referred to by his nickname ‘Boobee.’

“The good thing is we do have other guys that have experience.”

Martin and Shivers are among them, along with junior Malik Miller, who’s served as a third-down back this season and as a sure-handed bruiser in goal-line situations in the past.

This bye week will also be a big one for freshman running back D.J. Williams, who was injured in the preseason but is returning to health just as he’s needed most on the Tigers’ depth chart.

To that end, Auburn’s younger players put the ball down for a scrimmage during Auburn’s Tuesday practice — a regular part of the bye week routine under Malzahn — and those younger backs had their chance to prove their mettle at the season’s halfway point.

Williams, from Sebring, Fla., was graded as a four-star prospect coming out of high school by ESPN and 247Sports and as a three-star prospect by Rivals.

Redshirt freshman Harold Joiner from Mountain Brook was another young player who showed his talent in that scrimmage.

Malzahn said Williams rotated with the first-teamers in practice Tuesday and will continue to do so during bye week practices.

“We feel confident with the guys that we’ve got,” Malzahn said. “We’ll have a plan for Arkansas, and we’ll continue to do that until we get (Whitlow) back.

“We do feel like he’ll have a pretty good chance (to return) before the end of the season.”

Until then, Martin said he’s confident his teammates can rise to the challenge without him.

“Our room has been real close since (Carnell Williams) has been here,” Martin said, “All of us are close. Everybody is ready to step up.

“Whoever’s number is called to step up, we’re all going to be ready.”

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