Earlier today, Gus Malzahn noted that while it’s a foregone conclusion that Jarrett Stidham will be Auburn’s starting quarterback again, Malik Willis earned the official understudy role.
Auburn HC Gus Malzahn confirms that, yes, Malik Willis is the No. 2 quarterback heading into the season.— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) August 19, 2018
Is this a surprise? Not really, no. Willis had a pretty solid season in 2017 in a backup role, completing 6-7 passes for 45 yards and a touchdown, while running for 221 yards and a touchdown on just sixteen carries (13.8 ypc average!). He’s run Chip Lindsey’s offense, he’s obviously got a good rapport with the team, and he’s capable of spearheading our old favorite zone read scheme that Gus is familiar with.
While we would’ve loved to see Joey Gatewood come in and wow everyone in practice, that didn’t happen. Additionally, Cord Sandberg’s sudden enrollment didn’t give him enough time to do much of anything in the race to be Stidham’s backup. All in all, this isn’t really news, but it is nice to put one question on the offensive side of things to bed.
However, that still leaves the unknowns at other offensive spots...
As for the running back position, it’s clear that (Port Arthur’s own) Kam Martin and JaTarvious Whitlow have the edge in the race, but Malzahn seems to think that it’ll take a few games for the workhorse role to be figured out completely. You shouldn’t be shocked to hear that, as it’s taken Malzahn a few games to find the true offensive identity in nearly every season that he’s been on the Plains. Kerryon Johnson didn’t bust out until after his injury last year, ditto on Kam Pettway in 2016, Tre Mason in 2013, and even Cam Newton running the option in 2010.
In front of whoever’s carrying the ball, Auburn has an offensive line that seems like it’s getting closer and closer to being finalized. What many have reported is that from left to right, you’ll have:
Prince Tega Wanogho
That’s what the lineup would be if we kicked off with Washington right now, according to J.B. Grimes. Grimes has also been quoted as having said there are some things to correct from the previous owner of the hogmollies, so here’s to hoping that he’s done his work in that regard.
One place that I don’t think Auburn fans will have any questions about, other than “Where did all this talent come from?” is at the wideout spot. Kodi Burns has put together what is, by all accounts, one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the conference. Darius Slayton, Ryan Davis, and Nate Craig-Myers are all known quantities, but it’s become apparent that we’re going to have some of the young guys on the field early.
If you watched the recruiting tape, you know that Seth Williams, Matthew Hill, Shedrick Jackson, and Anthony Schwartz are all special players, each with their own strengths, but the reports out of fall (summer) camp have been that some of these guys have been nigh unstoppable.
@AuburnFootball WR talk: @KodiBurns breaks down the Fab 4️⃣ freshmen:@anthony_flash10 (“He’s going to run by anybody.”)@8_sethwilliams (“He can attack the ball.”)@shedrickj85 (“tough, physical kid.”)@Matt_D_Hill (“a hard-nosed kid & he’s going to make plays.”) pic.twitter.com/XNecMeKpnR— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) August 18, 2018
Once you add in George Pickens for next season, this could be a group that makes a gigantic impact for years to come. With Jarrett Stidham throwing to him in his second full season, it’ll be interesting to watch the mix on offense between run and pass early on.
Bottom line, if Auburn gets a running back to establish himself quickly, and if the coaches have found the right combo up front, then this offense could be very good. Add in the slants (finally) that we’ve heard about in practice, and the rest of the “intermediate” routes, whatever those are, and the passing game could be prolific.
I’m excited, I know you are, and we’re less than two weeks to kickoff. War Eagle!