On Saturday the Orange defeated the Blue 28-10 in front of 41,489 Auburn fans at the 2019 A-Day Game. It was a beautiful day for football and the play on the field was tremendous as well. The game was highlighted by the offense and the quarterbacks. It was just a picture-perfect day for the Tigers to end spring practice.
What stood out in this year’s game?
This spring the obvious story-line has been who will be the quarterback for the Tigers? Well, that question is still to be answered, but it is becoming clearer. Both Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix led the first-team (Orange). On the other side, the second-team (Blue) was led by Malik Willis and Cord Sandberg.
Gatewood has the look of a former Auburn signal-caller. He has tremendous arm talent and has great size at 6-5 and 233 pounds. He looks like former Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. That label has been thrown on his shoulders since he arrived on campus. Can he live up to it? Well, on Saturday he showed he has the potential. Gatewood guided the Orange to two first-half touchdowns that came from his passing ability hitting open receivers. Gatewood went eight for twelve on the day for 130 yards.
Nix has been the fan favorite since he announced his intent to attend Auburn. That last name means something to the Auburn faithful. His dad, Patrick Nix, led the Tigers from 1992-1995 under Terry Bowden. The last time Bo played at Jordan-Hare Stadium he was leading Pinson Valley to another state championship. On Saturday he guided the Orange to two touchdown drives just like Gatewood. The stat line shows 11 for 17 with 155 yards and two touchdowns. He also showed an ability to throw on the run and run on the option. He ran for 16 yards off three attempts and running the ball will be key for any of the quarterbacks to make the Gus Malzahn offense its best.
The signal-caller with the most experience is Willis. Willis only missed on one attempt the entire day and hit Matthew Hill for a 41-yard touchdown midway through the first to get the Blue on the scoreboard first. The junior finished the day with 95 yards and did get some time in the second half with the first-team.
Sandberg is the oldest in the quarterback room, but also the longest shot to get the starting nod. When Sandberg got in the game the game plan went away from passing and showed more of a running attack. He did go eight for nine with 54 yards and just like Willis got some snaps with the first-team in the second half.
While the talk of the quarterbacks has dominated the talk, the receivers did a great job of making their job easy on Saturday. Seth Williams looked to continue his solid play from last season, and he did so in a huge way. Williams caught four passes from both Gatewood and Nix for 103 yards and two touchdowns. He also set up the first Orange score with over five minutes remaining in the first quarter. Nix found Williams on a third and long play for 38 yards with two defenders covering. That put the Orange inside the five.
A potential breakout star could be Matthew Hill, who split time with both the Blue and Orange. Hill had a total of 128 yards on five receptions and two touchdowns. Hill was responsible for the first score of the game and the final score of the game. The first one was on a beautiful over the shoulder catch with two defenders draped over him, and the second on a 49-yard deep pass from Nix.
The first-team defense was led by the talented front of the Orange team. The Auburn defensive line very well may be the best in all of college football. Derrick Brown, Nick Coe, and Marlon Davidson will be a tough assignment for any offensive line in the nation. Those are three names that would have been called in the first two days of the NFL Draft. On Saturday, Brown was dominant with two sacks and four tackles. The Orange held the Blue to just 70 yards rushing on a 2.5 average yards per attempt.
The Blue defense which was the second-team had its issues on that side of the ball though. They gave up as a unit 338 yards passing and 116 on the ground. That was a total of 454 yards of offense off just 58 plays.
During A-Day the coaches did a good job at putting all quarterbacks in a position to succeed. Both Gatewood and Nix showed separation from Willis and Sandberg, and the competition should come down to those two. If history is any indicator, Coach Malzahn will not name a starter until deep into fall camp. The receiver position is very deep and will get even deeper with Will Hastings and Anthony Schwartz returning this fall. On defense, Auburn should be one of the very best in the country and take some pressure off the inexperienced quarterbacks early in the season. The schedule will be tough, but the talent is there for a very successful 2019 season.