Auburn has its starter at quarterback. Bo Nix was introduced to Auburn and the world all around on Tuesday, after head coach Gus Malzahn pulled the trigger on the decision, and told his excited players in a team meeting, and then told the world in an announcement that lit up social media.
But amid all the fanfare, Malzahn might as well have taken a step back and scratched his head.
A head coach is always going to worry.
“We need to be really good around him,” he could’ve said. After all, that’s a 19-year-old true freshman who’ll be at a critical position behind center — on a stage as big as they come in AT&T Stadium when No. 16 Auburn and No. 11 Oregon meet.
Malzahn does have confidence in Nix. He has confidence in competing quarterback Joey Gatewood, too, who’ll head to Texas as the team’s backup.
But he knows his experienced players will have to hold steady all around them.
“That’s really been our focus, no matter who the starting quarterback is going to be: we need to be really good around our quarterback, offensively and defensively, being a freshman,” Malzahn said in a press conference Tuesday evening. “I think that’s a big key, and our team understands that.”
Nix outdueled the redshirt freshman Gatewood, in the eyes of Malzahn and his coaches. The two competed for the starting spot in the spring, summer and fall. As classes started Monday, the Tigers took the day off from the practice field to hit campus, while Auburn’s coaches hunkered down with practice tapes from fall camp, re-evaluating players at every position including there at quarterback.
That led up to Tuesday’s decision. And it led up, he says, to him feeling good about his No. 1 and his No. 2 at quarterback going into the start of the season.
Somewhere along the line, though, there will be adversity. There will be times when the team has to lean on all 11 players on the field, to help the one behind center.
“When you’ve got freshmen quarterbacks, they’re going to make some mistakes,” Malzahn said frankly. “I’ll tell you right now, I don’t care how talented they are, they’re going to make some mistakes and we’ve got to be good enough around them as they’re growing and learning — especially with the schedule we have with the road games and everything that goes with it.
“That’s really been our message to our team, to be really good around him.”
Auburn practiced Tuesday after that team meeting early in the afternoon and that announcement.
“I will say this about Joey, and I told him this: He’s going to help us win games this year. There’s no doubt in my mind,” Malzahn said. “The good thing is, with everything we’ve confirmed, is that we’ve got two guys that we feel like we can win with.
“I introduced Bo to the team in our team meeting, and I feel like our team was very excited. I think from their standpoint, they’re happy they know who’s going to lead us into that first game. They responded well on the practice field today.”