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Gatewood Gone. What’s Next?

Auburn loses its backup quarterback midseason, leaving us very thin at a critical position.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Texas A&M John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Well, uh, things took a sudden but not wholly unexpected turn for Auburn today.

Joey Gatewood has up and vanished, transferred into the portal where one does not reappear. It’s pretty obvious why this has happened. He didn’t play at all in the loss at Florida, but an injury was said to be the cause of that absence. He only played one snap at LSU, running once for a couple yards.

With the way that Bo Nix played, it’s not difficult to understand Gatewood’s frustration. To be fair, Nix struggled worse than in any other game to complete basic passes. Most other coaches would likely give him a break to settle down and compose himself, or they’d give the backup a series just to see what kind of an impact they could have.

This is a complicated issue, and it’s one that has many nuances relating not just to the quarterback situation, but to the team in 2019 and beyond, and Gus Malzahn’s legacy. What does it mean across the board?

  • For the 2019 Auburn Tigers, things just got alarmingly thin at the most important position on the team.

Alright, QB2 is gone. After watching things in the spring and hearing the reports out of fall camp, it seemed as if the quarterback race was very close. A couple practices go one way or the other, and we might have had a different starting quarterback.

Now, it’s Bo Nix and Cord Sandberg. Honestly, I don’t know if Gus would throw Cord into a game against Georgia or Alabama if the outcome was in doubt. Would we run some sort of Wildcat with a former high school quarterback? Maybe. The offense would be severely limited, but there’s no real telling what would happen if Cord saw the field. Basically, we’ll need to bubble wrap Bo and pray that he stays healthy for the month of November.

There are four games left, all at home, and we’ll need him (despite the most recent performance). We’ve lost on the road against two top six teams and the sky is falling.

  • Going forward, the quarterback situation will be one to watch. Who’s going to fill the vacancy left behind by Gatewood’s departure?

That’s a good question. Almost certainly, Gus will take some sort of a transfer quarterback to bolster the roster in 2020 and beyond. Who’s that going to be? At this moment, there’s not a whole lot of clarity on that front, since most of the transfers will make themselves known later on during the season. There is one guy with an interesting last name already on the market, though:

Now, let’s pump the brakes. No, he’s not his brother. He’s barely completed 50% of his passes, and only runs for about 3.5 yards per carry. Yeah, it’s at Howard, and maybe he’d be better with a different supporting cast, but he couldn’t possibly be a bad option to have as a backup quarterback.

I can guarantee you that there’d be someone spending a lot more time at his alma mater too. Wouldn’t that be fun?

  • What does this do for the psyche of the team?

The dynamics here are bizarre. Obviously, Gatewood was a well-liked member of the team, but it’s hard to believe that Nix isn’t also popular. The decision from Gatewood to leave is really puzzling because he’s not doing himself any favors. He won’t be able to count this season as a redshirt season if he transfers since he’s played more than four games. He’ll cost himself this semester in school, and he won’t get the benefit of being seen as noble for finishing out the season before leaving.

It doesn’t seem like there was a locker room split based on who supported which quarterback, but now there’s no choice. The team will have to support Bo Nix, and we’ll have to see how that goes. For Bo, if he struggles, there’s no safety net. Maybe he doesn’t hear the footsteps of Gatewood ready to step in and plays less tight.

But what if he has another game like we saw against LSU? Does the team get mad that there is no other alternative since Gatewood’s gone? How do they respond knowing that there’s no other option? What-ifs galore.

  • What does this do for Gus Malzahn’s appearance and legacy?

A couple of Gus’ seasons have been torpedoed because of key injuries at positions with little depth. The Kerryon Johnson injury may have prevented Auburn from making its first appearance in the College Football Playoff. Sean White’s injuries in 2015 and 2016 turned the end of the season south. It’s not an issue until you encounter it, but not having depth at a position burns you like standing on a bed of fire ants, and Gus has been bitten a few times.

Auburn has also recruited better than at any other time in its history with Gus leading the charge, but even those numbers are inflated when you count the number of highly-ranked transfers that we’ve had lately. Gatewood’s another in a line of guys to leave the program. For Gus, is this becoming more of a trend than an anomaly.

While there have been questions about development of certain players, particularly quarterbacks, there are many instances of flat-out poor roster mismanagement. Right now, we’re in tight shape without a true backup quarterback, and that’s fully on the shoulders of the head coach since it appears that Gatewood left purely because of playing time. With a package or two in non-garbage time each game (and not the short-yardage limited package), this could have been avoided. Instead, it didn’t appear that Joey was allowed to run the entire playbook when he came in, and he was a gadget player at quarterback at best.

Finally, this isn’t going to be good for the pro-Gus crowd, but the anti-Gussers are going to take this as a feather in their cap. Here’s another instance of a poorly-handled situation, and it’s coupled with the loss at LSU, when many thought that a series or two from Gatewood could have swung the game the other way for us.

We’re going to be sitting puckered whenever Bo takes a shot down the stretch of this season, and that’s on Gus. Still, if you believed that Gatewood was a better quarterback from the start than Bo, then you need to check yourself. The backup quarterback is always the most popular player on the team, but how does that change when he’s gone?