Auburn University

Which Auburn QB will accept ‘final rose’ from Malzahn? Assistant coach speaks out

Auburn plays a football game in about two weeks and head coach Gus Malzahn has yet to name a starting quarterback.

At this point, there’s no telling when Auburn fans will get an answer.

The closest Malzahn has come to a public decision was in a “Bachelor” spoof on Twitter. To this point, he’s stayed relatively guarded about the two young QBs.

He said true freshman Bo Nix and redshirt freshman Joe Gatewood have been “rotated equally” three times in a five-minute span during his Wednesday press conference. After two scrimmages, all Malzahn and his players will say is that there’s truly no separation between the two, and that the Tigers’ offense is “starting to look like an Auburn offense.”

That comment didn’t go over well with fans on Twitter.

This is how Malzahn operates. And it’s not entirely unreasonable for him to keep quiet right now, considering the Tigers face a strong opponent in Oregon in their season opener on August 31.

But it was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kenny Dillingham’s turn to face the media hot seat Thursday. To his credit, he answered most questions about the quarterback decision with a smile.

“(We’re looking for) a guy who can take care of the football,” Dillingham said. “A guy who can run the offense, and can make things right. … That guy who doesn’t turn the ball over, who can make the routine play, and then understands how to not make a bad play.”

That’s easier said than done.

Dillingham said most growing pains had to do with the timing between the quarterbacks and receivers. Much of that, he said, had to do with Auburn’s defense, which many consider the strong point of this team.

“When you’re going up against one of the toughest defenses in college football, and you’re supposed to throw a (post route) on rhythm, catch it two yards before the hash, and you don’t know what angle he’s going to break at,” Dillingham said. “Balls are in front, they’re behind, they’re high, ‘cause they’re all different.”

Those issues with timing were solved this summer once the quarterbacks could work on routes with the receivers without a live defense. Nix and Gatewood also improved their communication, namely with the offensive line.

Luckily for the two quarterbacks, there’s enough experience to help ease the burden of learning a Tigers new offense, taking command and ultimately mastering Malzahn’s playbook.

The Tigers’ receivers, though inconsistent in Wednesday’s scrimmage, feature two seniors and junior Eli Stove, among others. The running backs room is a crowded one, with JaTarvious “Boobie” Whitlow, Kam Martin, Malik Miller and Shaun Shivers.

Still, it’s a tough task for any quarterback to do what Nix and Gatewood must before the Oregon game. And it’ll likely be more days of guessing just who might lead the Tigers’ offense on August 31.

Here’s to more speculation.

Other notes

Carnell “Cadillac” Williams was asked, after Whitlow said that “RBU was back” (RBU means Running Back U, a popular cliche in college football), if RBU was really back.

“As we know, Auburn had great running backs come through here,” Williams said. “Those things got to be played out on the field.”

For the record: Williams did not look disappointed in Whitlow’s comments. He spoke highly of the running back minutes earlier and said the running backs as a whole had a good camp.

Whitlow was the Tigers’ leading rusher last year with 787 yards and six touchdowns. The Tigers did not have a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since Malzahn took the head coaching job, as Martin finished with 458 yards and Shivers with 371 yards.

“We’ve got to see what happens on the field before we can start speaking that highly,” Williams said.

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Joshua Mixon is a reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer. He covers sports (Auburn and preps) and local news, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America. He previously covered Georgia athletics for the Telegraph. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshDMixon.