How Auburn recruited its way from quarterback woes to deep future at position
Much like Justin Ferguson does on the Auburn team side, recruiting reporter Benjamin Wolk will answer the Recruiting Question of the Day. You can ask him questions on Twitter or Facebook. Look for our Question of the Day each weekday. Go here to see our previous answers.
Gus seems to have solved his QB problem, with a solid back up in Malik Willis and star of the future in Gatewood. Is this the year auburn puts its QB woes away?
— Ben 3.0 (@B_Y_3) March 19, 2018
It wasn’t too long ago the narrative around Auburn’s quarterback depth chart sounded more like a nightmare than a dream.
Flash back to after Auburn fell to Georgia in the 2016 season.
Sean White constantly was battling injuries, enough to affect games against Vanderbilt, Georgia, Alabama and Oklahoma that season. John Franklin III didn’t make the JUCO-to-SEC jump that Rhett Lashlee would’ve liked. Woody Barrett wasn’t progressing as the Tigers coaching staff would’ve hoped. Tyler Queen hadn’t made a noticeable mark, and at the high school level Joey Gatewood was splitting reps at quarterback, which created some pause among Auburn’s quarterback evaluators.
In December 2016, however, something happened to help establish a comfortable future at quarterback for Auburn.
No, I’m not talking about Jarrett Stidham committing to Auburn over Texas A&M. That’s obvious. The Tigers could’ve landed Stidham — a former 5-star quarterback and the No. 1 overall JUCO prospect — and cruised through that recruiting class. They could’ve expected Stidham to come in and compete with White, Franklin, Barrett and Queen, adding further depth to a five-deep room.
But Auburn coaches saw the writing on the wall.
Before the 2017 season started: Barrett, Queen and Franklin, all gone. It took only a few weeks into 2017 — after Stidham had secured the starting job — for White to follow, albeit under different circumstances. In a hurry, Stidham stood alone in the quarterback room, save for one freshman.
That’s what made Auburn’s second move in December 2016 so important.
The Tigers didn’t coast when they added Stidham. They went out and found one of the most egregiously under-recruited prospects in Georgia in recent memory. Malik Willis, with his 21-2 career record as a high school quarterback, became the bridge between Auburn’s quarterback past and quarterback future. Willis has captured the attention of the Tigers coaching staff, players and fan base since his arrival.
Meanwhile, Gatewood — though still splitting some snaps — showcased a much more developed look as a passer in his 2017 senior season. Gatewood’s addition to the Stidham-Willis quarterback room gives Gus Malzahn and Chip Lindsey a nice buffet of talent.
It also gave them long-term comfort at the position. This avoids putting Auburn in a position where it has to recruit a junior college quarterback and a 3-star high school quarterback in the same cycle. Instead, the Tigers can turn their attention to future classes, one of which is already shored up with 2019 commit Bo Nix.
The Tigers can now turn their attention to the 2020 and 2021 classes. They’ve already handed out six offers:
- 4-star Harrison Bailey, Marietta, Ga.
- 4-star Max Johnson, Watkinsville, Ga.
- 4-star Jack Miller, Scottsdale, Ariz.
- 4-star Drew Pyne, New Canaan, Conn.
- 4-star TJ Finley, Ponchatoula, La.
- 2021 Aaron McLaughlin, Buford, Ga.
So, yes, it appears that Auburn’s quarterback woes have officially been put way. And that’s going to make future woes less likely to return.
To see all the answers to prior Auburn questions, click here.