Auburn’s position battle at quarterback will carry on for another week and through at least one more scrimmage, Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn said Thursday after his team’s first scrimmage of the fall.
His freshmen made progress, he said. They learned, and so did the coaches. It’s different out there when they’re facing “live bullets,” Malzahn said.
And he’s going to have to throw them into that fire at least one more time to find his starter.
Redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood and true freshman Bo Nix both made some good decisions and some bad decisions, Malzahn said Thursday, after his team put the ball down for 80-plus snaps in game-like scenarios at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
They’ll do it again next week — and maybe again after that — trying to find the man to take the first snap from behind center against Oregon on Aug. 31.
“There’s nothing like a scrimmage for a quarterback,” Malzahn said simply, just off the field after the team’s stadium practice in the scalding mid-day sun.
Gatewood and Nix entered fall camp as the team’s last standing candidates to earn the starting job, after Malzahn narrowed an open spring competition down to those two standouts after the A-Day scrimmage in Jordan-Hare.
The team returned to the stadium Thursday for another game simulation there, this one behind locked gates and closed to the public, but will have to be back for more before the coaches can make a call on who’s starting against Oregon.
The team is scheduled to scrimmage in the stadium again next Wednesday.
“Oh, 100 percent,” Malzahn said, when asked if he was going to need at least one more scrimmage to find a starter. “Yeah. They’re going to need as many reps as they can get back there behind (center). They’re going to need to feel that.”
The energy isn’t misspent, he says. Even as the Tigers coaches are evaluating their two quarterbacks, they’ve installed part of their attack plan for that Oregon game, and that’s what Gatewood and Nix are running as they compete with each other for the starting job.
“We’ve kind of already looked ahead at Oregon and some of the things we know we’re going to do. So give them as many reps as we can doing them, so they’re more reactive instead of having to think,” Malzahn explained. “It doesn’t matter that our defense is different than theirs. Still, I just want our guys to be comfortable with what we call. We’ll continue to do that at scrimmages.”
Just about the only thing the quarterbacks aren’t doing is taking live hits. The quarterbacks were in orange non-contact jerseys for the scrimmage and will continue to wear them throughout preseason camp. But there’s still plenty to learn in throwing them out there in those situations, Malzahn said.
“You find out a lot when you go plays and you spot the ball and bring it back and you run another play, but there’s nothing like being out there — the down and distance, being able to think like a quarterback and really be thinking like a coach, too,” Malzahn said. “When you get out of the pocket, are you going to run for it, or if you’re behind the line of scrimmage, are you going to throw it away?”
The results were mixed in their decision-making in those situations Thursday, he said.
But where Gatewood and Nix have their chance to make strides between Thursday and next Wednesday lies in how they correct those mistakes from scrimmage to scrimmage.
“Like I told them, the whole key is, you look at film, you look at the corrections, and then you come back and the next time, you improve,” Malzahn said. “If you don’t improve, that’s when things get concerning.
“But my experience is, the guys that can do it, they figure it out and the next time, they don’t make the same mistakes.”
That’s the challenge being laid down to the both going into the next scrimmage.
It’ll take at least one more — and a few more of those “live bullets” — for a starter to emerge.