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Fall Practice Thoughts: First Scrimmage

Auburn went live today and we learned some things.

Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball)

We’re less than a week into fall camp, and the Auburn Tigers have scrimmaged in upon themselves. Gus Malzahn led an 84-play practice today and we discovered that in the game of football, practicing against yourself will often yield mixed results.

From what we can glean, the defense led the day. It’s not surprising when you consider what they’re capable of doing and how much room the offense had to go to get into game shape after last season, but when you hear some of the positives coming out of the first few practices it does get a little disheartening that the offense struggled.

To be sure, practicing in shells and helmets has a much different feel (and much less pressure) than running an actual scrimmage. That said, we remember what Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix did in the spring, and we’ve heard the glowing reviews over the first week of camp. Unfortunately for them, they’ve got to learn against one of the best defenses in the country.

Today, you can say that the defense took the young kids to freshman orientation. Here are some of the notes from Gus Malzahn afterward.

If you had to put money on it, there’s little doubt that the defense would’ve been the favorite to control the first scrimmage. They’ve got continuity, and they’ve got experience, not to mention some of the best talent in the land. When the Auburn offense has to go against Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, Nick Coe, the seasoned secondary, and a linebacker group that’s as talented as can be, it’s not going to be easy.

For the offense, they didn’t have some of their biggest playmakers. That’ll never help. Missing D.J. Williams (who’s expected to be quite the participant this season), and letting guys like Will Hastings, Eli Stove, Anthony Schwartz (broken hand), and Seth Williams have little to no work in this scrimmage won’t do the offense any good when they compete against the first team on the other side. Scrimmages often work that way, though, and coaches can’t exclusively play the first string in practices just to confirm what the veterans and starters can do. They got valuable tape on some of the new faces around the team, and Auburn’s going to need as much help as they can get since the depth in many spots isn’t fantastic.

As far as the biggest issue of fall camp — the quarterback race between Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix — it sounds like we’ll have to wait at least another week. Neither player separated themselves from the other today, and with the lack of key offensive starters, it’s not super hard to see why. Word is that the offensive line had trouble getting a push (not surprising), but that’s difficult to tell whether it’s because they’re still at the 2018 level or because the defensive front is that good.

Auburn returns to Jordan-Hare Stadium next Wednesday for more scrimmage work, and Gus Malzahn hopes to be able to have a better idea on the starting quarterback then. After all, we’re only going to be two-plus weeks away from kickoff at that point.

However, there are some (unnamed members of the College and Mag group chat) who think that maybe... just maybe Gus already has it figured out. Maybe this whole waiting to name a starter is a smokescreen. Maybe he’s got a guy ready to name right now (Cord Sandberg, duh). If you listen to this past week’s episode of Orange and True, you’ll hear Ryan Sterritt pick Auburn to go 11-1 this season. That won’t be possible if we don’t have a quarterback ready to go for week one.

Why would we wait to make that call, though? Well. If you thought that the loser would start to explore the transfer market, then you might wait. You also want the biggest element of surprise to not be a redesigned Auburn logo that looks a little too stretched.

Those reasons are a little too tinfoil hat for me, however. It’s perfectly likely that our defense is awesome and the offense struggled while missing a few of the key pieces. When our quarterbacks don’t have their favorite receivers, and the offensive linemen are going up against the best defensive line in the country for real, one unit is better than the other. As a noted optimist who thought that even the 2012 offense had serious weaponry, I have a much more positive feeling about this year. Whichever quarterback starts will be fine, and the task ahead of them is a defense that’s not nearly as good as the one they get to see every day.

In the end, scrimmages don’t tell you much at all, because every positive has a negative, except one.

Ain’t nothing wrong with Legatron II: The Sequel.