Earlier this week, Gus Malzahn officially announced that the quarterback race has been whittled down. During his AMBUSH tour with Bruce Pearl, he said that there are only two guys that will possibly start the opener against Oregon in Arlington.
It’s down to two. The others have bowed out, and their support will be thrown behind the final competitors in this primary race.
#GatewoodDrivetoVictory vs #BoKnows.
Son of Crow and James Jones have their candidate, Joey Gatewood, primed for the victory in this quarterback race after a spring that saw him develop physically and quarterbackally (not a word). He earned the respect from his teammates, and he showed off skills that made new offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham describe him as a “physically dominant creature”.
In the other corner, it’s the youth and vibrant nature of Bo Nix, backed by AU Nerd and AU Chief. He’s got the pluck and gumption of his father, former Tiger signal-caller Patrick Nix, and he wowed everyone in spring ball enough to jump two more experienced quarterbacks in the rotation. He’s got a great arm, and he’s not an immobile statue either. Dude has wheels.
The best part is that we didn’t even get to see which guy would be better when they put real ammo on the practice range. The non-contact jerseys limit the mobility that both players can show. For Joey Gatewood, the 6’5, 233-pound frame reminds many of Cam Newton, even though he’ll have to show something special to really earn that comparison. For Nix, he’s just a “sneaky athlete” that showed some speed during the A-Day game. If not for exceptionally quick whistles, he’s probably got a rushing touchdown or two to his credit instead of the 155 passing yards and two scores that he racked up through the air.
Either way, Auburn is going to be starting a freshman quarterback for the first time in almost two decades. Jason Campbell started in 2001 as a redshirt freshman, while Auburn has never thrown a true freshman starter out on opening day. Now the main question becomes what kind of skillset would you like to see from the quarterback position.
Gus Malzahn has succeeded with a Bo Nix type of player. He did it the past couple of years with Jarrett Stidham, and also in a similar way with a healthy Sean White in 2016. However, the times that Auburn has been not just dangerous, but devastating, have come with a true dual-threat guy in the backfield. The size comparison to Cam Newton isn’t just a coincidence. It’s also hopeful in nature. If Gatewood can plow through linebackers for the easy short-yardage conversions like Cam did, then Auburn will be in good shape. If he can show off pretty solid top end speed and make some long runs, or if he can avoid the pressure like Cam did, then he’ll become a quick favorite of Auburn fans.
However, Bo Nix can be what Stidham was, only more mobile. At his peak, and with a good offensive line/running back combo to help, Stidham torched the top teams in the country. Decently mobile, he allowed Gus and Chip Lindsey to play more of a traditional offense. Now with Kenny Dillingham along for the ride as Gus calls the plays, it’s going to be hard to think that Nix has the upper hand. We’re all familiar with Gus’ tendency when he was making the calls to go with a play that worked until you stopped it. The read option offense with Cam and Nick Marshall was the perfect outlet for that. There’s no telling if we end up going back to that kind of an attack this year, but it would be some kind of fun time.
So, who do you want and why? Joey Gatewood seems to be the more athletic and more experienced guy, but Bo Nix isn’t a slouch, and has the pedigree on his side. I have a feeling that they’ll both be successful, but we just need to see which type of offense works the best this year, and who’s in the best shape to run that attack.