Who are the playmakers on offense for the Tigers? Auburn will have a new quarterback with the departure of Jarrett Stidham, and the search for the new signal caller will garner most of the attention this spring. But who’s going to help the new quarterback? That’s just as important of a question.
It is no secret that the offense took a major step backward in 2018. That regression is due to a regression at quarterback, lack of consistent running game, injuries at receivers, and offensive line play. The Tigers went from being the third ranked offense in the SEC in 2017 to falling to 11th in 2018. The running game was the biggest drop-off going from 218.3 yards per game to 167.5.
Therefore, Gus Malzahn will be taking over the play-calling duties and will look to get back to the high-octane offense Auburn fans are used to. That is not an impossible task if the right quarterback is chosen to lead the team with the potential talent at the play-maker positions.
Last season Auburn’s nine-year streak of having a 1,000-yard rusher came to an end. That dates back to the Tommy Tuberville era when Ben Tate was the leading rusher. Inconsistency, injuries, and problems with the offensive line were the major culprits for not having the running game Auburn is used to. For Auburn to get back to being contenders, they will have to find their old form.
JaTarvious Whitlow led the team last season with 787 yards and six touchdowns, but he will need help. Whitlow brought a spark to the offense when in the lineup but staying in the lineup consistently was an issue. To prevent a repeat of that, the coaching staff will need to find a solid number two to keep Whitlow fresh and healthy.
Two obvious choices there are senior Kam Martin or explosive sophomore Shaun Shivers. Both add in something different from Whitlow. Martin and Shivers were second and third in rushing with a combined 829 yards with four touchdowns. Fans will have to wait to see Shivers on the field until the fall though. He will be competing for the track and field team during the spring.
Auburn will have to find replacements for their top two leading receivers Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis. Davis leaves Auburn as the school’s all-time leader in receptions, and Slayton was the top deep threat for Stidham the last two seasons. In Slayton’s three seasons on the plains he never averaged under 19 yards per catch.
While those are big voids to fill, the talent is on the roster to fill them. Actually, Auburn is really healthy as it relates to wide receiver depth. One of the few bright spots on offense was the emergence of freshmen Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz. Williams led the team with 20.5 yards per catch and should be able to fill Slayton’s shoes as the deep threat.
Schwartz, like Shivers, is not participating in spring practice due to competing on the track and field team. With his speed and development as a receiver, Schwartz should be able to flourish in the passing game, and strike fear into SEC defenses with what he can do down the field. Another dimension the speedster brings to the table is contributions to the ground attack on the speed sweep. Schwartz added in 211 yards rushing with his 357 receiving yards. He reached the end-zone seven times as well in 2018.
Two big additions to the group are not incoming freshmen, but two veterans in the offense. Both Will Hastings and Eli Stove were both limited in the fall due to injuries sustained last spring. Hastings was pivotal in the air attack from the slot, and Stove was electric with the speed sweep. Adding both those dimensions will help the inexperienced quarterbacks.
There is plenty of talent on this Auburn offense as long as they get good quarterback play. The backfield should be much better with experience, and the options will be plenty in the passing game.