Auburn University

What to look for in the Auburn quarterback battle this fall

With South Eastern Conference (SEC) Media Days just over one week away and the recruiting dead period in full swing, there are still more questions than answers surrounding the Auburn football team.

No area, arguably, is a bigger question mark than the Tigers’ quarterback group.

Jarrett Stidham is gone after being drafted by the New England Patriots. That means that for the first time in Gus Malzahn’s eight years at Auburn, the Tigers will kick off the season with a first-time starter at quarterback.

That’s a lot to take in for a new quarterback, and given last season’s lackluster rushing offense and the fact that the Tigers’ season-opener is not against a cupcake (Oregon), there could, and probably will, be even more pressure on whichever player wins the starting job.

So, on that positive note, here’s a pre-SEC Media Days version of the Tigers’ young quarterback group, and what can, realistically, be expected of it.

A freshman who shows promise

Bo Nix, a true freshman, led all passers during Auburn’s A-Day spring game (11-of-16, 155 yards) and added two touchdowns.

The good: His first touchdown pass demonstrated his ability to scramble outside the pocket and extend plays. After the defense jumped offsides, Nix darted to his right, evaded the rush and threw across his body to receiver Eli Stove, who found himself open in the end zone. Nix’s second touchdown pass was a clean one, too — a lofted ball to a wide-open Matthew Hill.

The bad: Nix has no meaningful real-game experience, and the same can be said for every other quarterback competing for the starting job. Spring games (glorified scrimmages) are obviously much different than real, in-season games. So it’s still really unknown just how Nix will do if given the nod against the Ducks.

Another (redshirt) freshman

Catching the theme for this quarterback competition?

The good: Redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood was 8-of-11 for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. He’s the only player in contention for the starting job with in-game experience, which came late in the Tigers’ trouncing of Purdue in the Music City Bowl.

He has been compared to Auburn great Cam Newton. His high school highlights demonstrate why, and at 6-foot-5, 233 pounds, the former four-star recruit definitely looks the part.

The bad: You guessed it, inexperience.

Gatewood’s career rushing statistics sit at three rushes for 26 yards. His passing stats: one attempt, zero yards.

Other quarterbacks on roster

Malik Willis: Junior planning to go elsewhere after entering the transfer portal.

Cord Sandberg: 24-year-old redshirt freshman who played minor-league baseball before arriving at Auburn.

Wil Appleton: Senior who took no snaps in 2017 and 2018.

The verdict

Inexperience, at least at first, will be what hinders this group (and by proxy, the Tigers’ offense). Malzahn and company have two talented quarterbacks in Nix and Gatewood, but it’ll be a matter of just how quickly the opening day starter can acclimate to real-game speed before any real upsides of the two quarterbacks can be judged.

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