Auburn University

Auburn scrimmage takeaways: Gus Malzahn addresses QB battle

No, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn did not name a starting quarterback after the Tigers’ second fall scrimmage. No, this is not much of a surprise, given how close-to-the-chest the coach likes to keep things at this stage in the preseason.

At this point, all Malzahn will say is that the two quarterbacks, Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix, are rotating in with the starters. He said they “rotated equally” three times on Wednesday and that he’ll name a starter “whenever it feels right.”

All Malzhan’s players can say is that there really isn’t much call to give between the two quarterbacks.

However, the quarterback is only one position (though in Auburn’s offense, it’s pretty important). And there have been improvements across the board offensively, according to Malzahn. Improvements that had several notable players in in a remarkably good mood considering they practiced in 95-degree heat.

The first-team offense is still a work in progress. In addition to not having a named starting quarterback 17 days from the team’s season opener, Malzahn said the receivers were a “little inconsistent” and said they had some “big drops that really could’ve kept drives alive.”

Those drops led to extra sprints after practice.

Six-foot-3 receiver Seth Williams was limited in practice, per Malzahn. Anthony Schwartz, Will Hastings and Eli Stove are all coming off injuries, the latter two recovering from ACL surgeries. No receiver was held out of practice entirely.

Aside from that, though, there were not many negatives from the practice, offensively. Malzahn said the offense “really rebounded” from last week’s scrimmage — a scrimmage in which the defense “dominated” with the quarterbacks being intercepted three times.

“We’re starting to look like an Auburn offense,” Malzahn said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re starting to look that — you see flashes.”

“An Auburn offense,” meaning one that can both throw and run the ball effectively.

For the running backs, it boils down to ball security and whoever Malzahn and running backs coach Cadillac Williams think they can trust more on August 31. There was one fumble during Wednesday’s scrimmage (Malzahn did not name the guilty party), but the unnamed running back recovered it.

That’s where this team is right now, and has been for most of the fall: The defense is experienced and the strong point, the offense remains a work in progress.

The Tigers face Oregon in Arlington, Texas, in just over two weeks (7:30 p.m., ABC).

Other takeaways

Tigers working to improve special teams: Among the many things the Tigers worked on: Field goals, live reps at punt and punt return and two-minute situations with SEC officials present.

Malzahn said the Tigers worked on sky kicks — something he said they were not good at last year. The team also worked on field goal blocks, which the head coach said was an area of strength for last year’s team.

“We did a great job, defensively, blocking kicks last year,” Malzahn said. “... We were average, last year, at executing sky kicks.”

Two running backs full of confidence: Auburn’s running back corps might be the most experienced on the team, consisting of veterans JaTarvious “Boobie” Whitlow, Malik Miller and Kam Martin, sophomore Shaun Shivers and three freshmen behind them.

“You’ve got to come every day with your A-game,” Martin said. “We’ve got guys that’s hungry, willing to fight.”

Coming off a rough 2018 season, the Tigers running backs are hungry. Whitlow was the Tigers’ leading rusher with 787 yards last year. Martin had 458 yards, and Shiver had just over 370.

That hasn’t dimmed Whitlow’s spirits.

“We got the best two quarterbacks in the country,” Whitlow said. “We got the best running backs in the country. That’s all I got to say. We got the best receiving corps in the country, we got the best defensive line in the country, the best cornerbacks in the country. Who you gon’ stop?”

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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.