News started spreading this afternoon over various message boards (I believe Rivals.com had it first) that Senior Safety Jermaine Whitehead was not on the plane to Manhattan, KS today, and would not play in tomorrow night's game against Kansas State. At the time there was no info other than that.
This evening word began to be discussed that this is due to a "verbal altercation" with an assistant coach.
Auburn DB Jermaine Whitehead DID NOT make the trip to Kansas State. Multiple reports say he had a verbal altercation w/ an assistant coach.— Jenna Callari (@jennacallari) September 17, 2014
I have not seen any word on which coach or what the altercation may have involved. Truthfully, that doesn't matter at the moment. Whitehead didn't fly to Kansas and won't play tomorrow. Beyond that we don't know what will happen with him.
This really hurts Auburn's defense for tomorrow night's game. Whitehead has been the starter at one of the Safety spots and has notched an interception in both games, including one returned for a touchdown. Against San Jose State he came close to picking up another two INTs.
Auburn's secondary has been one of the big question marks going into tomorrow night. Will Auburn be able to handle KSU wide receiver Tyler Lockett? Losing Whitehead is going to greatly hinder that effort. So where does Auburn go from here?
The two-deep shows true freshman Stephen Roberts behind Whitehead at Free Safety. If Auburn doesn't trust a true freshman on the road, maybe either Rudy Ford or Derrick Moncrief slide over to Free Safety from Boundary Safety. Andother option is current Cornerback Josh Hosley. Holsey was a Safety last season before his injury. He has been playing Cornerback this season. It would not surprise me to see him slide over to Safety to fill the gap.
UPDATE: I spoke with someone who is a family friend of Opelika native Stephen Roberts who told me that Roberts will be starting, tonight. If that is indeed the case, hopefully it is because Roberts has proven he can handle the responsibility. This will be a big stage for the young freshman to show what he can do against a marquee opponent in his first ever start.
We do not know how long this has been a situation. If it just happened in the last few days, then it could portend some serious struggles in the secondary against Kansas State. Gus Malzahn is notoriously tight-lipped, however, so there is the possibility that this happened early last week and the team has been preparing for it since then. In that case it will still mean some issues, but possibly not as many or as serious.
One thing is for sure: Auburn did not need this distraction going into such a marquee road game against a Top 25 opponent. This won't affect the offense's ability to score points, but it may mean that they need to score a few more than they otherwise would have. A match-up that was already scary just got a bit more so.