Redshirt freshman quarterback Joey Gatewood’s departure from Auburn’s football program is by no means a surprising development. His role in the Tigers’ offense was a limited one, and even when the team struggled to move the ball in its two losses, he was used sparingly.
It was all too predictable: Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said starter and true freshman Bo Nix had a “better fall camp” than Gatewood back in August, and noted the freshman’s attention to detail and consistency. By all accounts, Nix was the better quarterback in the preseason.
Malzahn said originally he’d pick a starter after fall camp, and did so two days following the conclusion of camp. He said he’d pick the quarterback that gave the team the “best chance of winning.”
That has, to some degree, been true. The 11th-ranked Tigers (6-2, 3-2 SEC) have two losses, both in road games to top-10 opponents. But Nix’s struggles and inconsistencies were magnified in both losses: against No. 1 LSU, he struggled to throw the ball consistently. Against No. 6 Florida, he threw three interceptions.
But having two freshman quarterbacks of similar talent competing for snaps was always likely to result in a departure. Now, Gatewood’s exit adds a level of uncertainty to Auburn’s offense.
“He’s at a point now where he feels like, and he wants to be, a starting quarterback,” Malzahn said. “He just feels like he needs to start looking for schools now so he can find the right spot, and I respect that.
“He’s a fine young man, and I really appreciate everything Joey’s done for our program.”
The Tigers’ offense has struggled to produce against the better defenses on its schedule. They should not run into any issues Saturday against a 3-5 Ole Miss team (7 p.m. EST, ESPN), but face two of the nation’s best defenses in Georgia and Alabama to close the season.
Recent history regarding the Tigers’ two biggest rivals is not on the Auburn’s side. The Crimson Tide has won four of the last five over Auburn. Georgia has won five of the previous six. Both teams boast a strong run defense, something that’s spelled the downfall of Auburn’s offense in the team’s two losses. Nix plays his worst when he doesn’t have a run game to compliment him.
Gatewood played in seven games for the Tigers and was used at times as a Wildcat quarterback, running for 148 yards and three touchdowns while throwing for a fourth score. He was also used in short-yardage situations.
There’s a chance this now affects Malzahn’s use of Nix in the running game, even though there’s a better chance of Gatewood returning to the Plains and winning the Heisman than there is of Malzahn admitting so.
Nix and Gatewood entered the season with little-to-no experience, and an injury to the Tigers’ starter would result in another inexperienced signal-caller entering the fold.
Former minor league baseball player Cord Sandberg is the new second-string quarterback. Sandberg has only attempted one pass in his two seasons. Walk-on Will Appleton is the new third-stringer.
Sandberg threw for 7,518 yards and 79 touchdowns in his final three seasons of high school football. He also ran for 1,795 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Said a tight-lipped Malzahn said on the SEC coaches’ teleconference Wednesday: “We’ll have a plan for each game as far as those kinds of things are concerned.”