As if there wasn’t enough weight falling on a freshman’s shoulders, now, somehow, it seems there’s even more pressure on Bo Nix.
Auburn’s offense runs through No. 10.
And now it’s going to thrive or die on his arm — and his arm alone.
Backup quarterback Joey Gatewood has left the team and a former third-stringer now sits behind Nix at quarterback. After a whirlwind of a week in the Auburn quarterback room — and a stir blowing over the city and across social media — Nix will walk back onto his home field in Jordan-Hare Stadium for Auburn’s first home game in a month’s time this Saturday, and watchful eyes will fix to him knowing there’s no dispute on who’s ‘QB1,’ and knowing the old Option B will be nowhere to be seen.
Nix is it. A lot can change in a week.
And Gatewood’s departure should affect Auburn’s quarterback play in several ways down the home stretch of the season, which starts Saturday at 6 p.m. against Ole Miss.
Auburn is confident in Nix. There’s no question on that, after Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and wide receiver Seth Williams both reaffirmed their belief in him on Sunday after Auburn’s second loss of the season at LSU — and before Malzahn’s Wednesday announcement that Gatewood had left the team.
But while Nix has thrown 204 of Auburn’s 213 passes this season, Gatewood has thrown the only other seven attributed to quarterbacks, outside of two spikes scored as ‘team’ incompletions. New backup Cord Sandberg hasn’t thrown any passes this season, and only threw one last year.
Nix could be sent into fewer designed runs moving forward, with the coaching staff knowing the Tigers are just one injury away from an inexperienced Sandberg stepping into the game. Auburn will surely protect Nix from contact when at all possible, especially in games against Ole Miss and Samford that seem otherwise winnable without Nix’s downhill running.
Meanwhile, Auburn’s Wildcat-like packages putting Gatewood behind center will surely be stripped from the playbook. Gatewood has scored two touchdowns on such packages this season.
Malzahn declined to answer when asked how Gatewood’s departure affects how Auburn will use Nix in the running game looking ahead. “We’ll have a plan for each game as far as those kinds of things are concerned,” he said simply when a reporter asked on the SEC coaches’ teleconference on Wednesday. But depth can always affect play even when starters are on the field.
Sandberg is Auburn’s 24-year-old level head in the Auburn quarterback room. He played minor league baseball for several seasons while maintaining his NCAA eligibility, before joining Auburn ahead of last season. He has a strong understanding of Auburn’s playbook, Malzahn said Wednesday, and obviously holds more life experience behind his eyes than most college students, but he was crossed from Auburn’s open quarterback battle after spring camp, when Malzahn narrowed the quarterback battle down to a head-to-head competition between Nix and Gatewood going into the summer.
Nix was ultimately named the starter just after fall camp. Former Auburn quarterback Malik Willis transferred to Liberty, while Sandberg took the No. 3 spot.
Auburn’s No. 3 quarterback is now senior walk-on Wil Appleton.