War Eagle Extra

Auburn backup quarterback Neil Caudle aims to stay away from controversy, voices support for starter Chris Todd

There is a picture that circulates on Internet message boards every time Auburn’s quarterback situation gets dicey.

It’s a lineup from an Elite 11 quarterback camp in 2005 featuring several of the nation’s top high school recruits.

Current NFL players Josh Freeman and Matthew Stafford, who broke records at Kansas State and Georgia, respectively, flank the group. Current college stars such as Florida’s Tim Tebow, Mississippi’s Jevan Snead and even Delaware’s Pat Devlin, a former Penn State player, stand between them.

Smack dab in the middle are the unmistakable, well-coiffed bangs of Neil Caudle, who continues to wait his turn at Auburn.

Caudle gave his full support to Chris Todd after coaches told him Sunday that they will stick with the struggling starter despite Auburn’s three-game losing streak. Todd has completed only 50 percent of his passes the past three weeks for 260 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

“We’re handling it the right way,” Caudle said. “We believe in Chris. We believe he’s a good player. He’s shown that numerous times. Things aren’t clicking on offense right now but we’re going to get it fixed and we know Chris is going to do a good job for us.”

Caudle, like every backup quarterback in the country, remains the popular choice of fans for what ails Auburn’s offense, which finished with a season-low 10 points and 193 yards in a 31-10 loss Saturday at LSU.

Caudle directed the Tigers’ only scoring drive, going 3-for-5 for 34 yards in the fourth quarter against LSU’s backup defense. LSU put its starters back in the game when Auburn got to the 1-yard line, but Caudle executed a solid play-action fake and found an open Philip Lutzenkirchen for a touchdown with three seconds left, something positive in an otherwise miserable offensive day.

“Experience in general is good for everybody,” said Caudle, who notched his first career touchdown pass. “Playing in a stadium like that and a situation like that is great. It means a lot for me and the younger guys to get in there.”

Caudle, at least in the short term, seems like the only candidate if Auburn were to go in a different direction.

Coaches would prefer not to burn the redshirt this late in the season on freshman Tyrik Rollison, who showed progress in August but not enough to get immediate playing time.

Redshirt freshman Barrett Trotter has traveled to all of the road games to relay play-calls but still isn’t game ready after undergoing knee surgery for a torn ACL last spring.

And Kodi Burns, who moved to wide receiver in August, hasn’t done anything in his few passing situations as a wildcat quarterback to compel the coaches to switch him back.

That leaves Caudle, whose career has been dotted by injuries to his knee, shoulder and thumb since his days as a four-star recruit at Spain Park High in Hoover, Ala.

The junior had his best chance to win the starting job last spring, competing against Burns while Todd recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. But neither contender wowed the staff, pushing the competition into August, when Todd seized the starting job a week and a half into training camp.

Caudle, despite his reputation of being prone to turnovers, won the backup job, but he has yet to be used in a meaningful moment this season, going 5-for-8 for 53 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Nevertheless, he said he is ready to play.

“I prepare every week as if I’m the starter,” he said. “I think that’s my job and my role on this team right now. I’m always prepared to go in there to play, and I’m not going to change anything from week to week.”

Despite Auburn’s sticky quarterback situation, Caudle doesn’t think it will fracture the team as it did last year, when players formed factions behind Todd and Burns.

“I’m personally going to work to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Caudle said. “We all stand behind Chris.”

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