Two in-state teams take the field this weekend for their spring games – UAB and Auburn.
The Blazers are looking to improve on an 8-4 regular season record last year and try to compete for a Conference USA title. Their game will be at 1:00 pm out at Legion Field.
Meanwhile, the Auburn Tigers will take the field at 3:00 pm at Jordan-Hare Stadium. There are plenty of questions surrounding the defending SEC West champs, especially with the amount of injuries they have suffered this spring. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
What are some of the biggest story lines and things to know going into Auburn’s A-Day game?
1. Who will be exchanging the ball to start each play?
Every play starts with the center getting the back to the quarterback, but Auburn has question marks at both of those positions now. Jarrett Stidham is the assumed starter, but he has been nursing a surgically repaired shoulder, so we won’t see him in the main scrimmage at A-Day. Malik Willis and Joey Gatewood will see more time instead.
Willis has apparently thrown four interceptions in two scrimmages so far this season. Part of where he can damage you is with his feet, not necessarily deep throws. He has had multiple long touchdown runs in the spring so far. Gatewood is spending time at receiver (mentioned below), so we’ll see how the reps are split.
While all eyes are on the quarterback every snap, the person snapping it could be an issue too. Everyone is hurt at center right now, although they are expected to be back for the fall. Nick Brahms has a broken fibula, Kaleb Kim has an ankle injury, and Tucker Brown is limited with an undisclosed injury as well. A-Day could be all walk-ons at that position.
2. Who replaces Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway?
There is a lot of talk in the SEC about the loss of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at Georgia, or Bo Scarbrough at Alabama – but Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway may be the biggest running back loss in the league. Both suffered with injuries but both were as solid as they come when healthy.
Kam Martin was the third back last year for the most part, but two newcomers look to make waves in JaTarvious Whitlow and Asa Martin. Whitlow was redshirted last year after coming from LaFayette where he was a great dual-threat QB passing and rushing for over 2,000 yards with 59 touchdowns. He chose Auburn over UAB and looks to get some reps this season. He’ll be a much quicker back than others.
If you’ve heard me talk about prospects I can’t wait to see, at the top of the list from last year’s signing class is Asa Martin, a true freshman from Austin who enrolled early. He’s a tough runner who consistently put up 200 and 300 yard games in high school. He spent his junior year at IMG Academy before coming back to Austin for his senior year. He led Austin to the quarterfinals last year where they lost in a shootout with fellow Auburn commit Bo Nix 51-50 in overtime. Asa was also this year’s Mr. Football and deservedly so.
3. Position changes galore
QB Joey Gatewood is playing receiver
RB Devan Barrett is playing receiver
WR Noah Igbinoghene is playing defensive back
Auburn is getting the most of their star talent by shifting them around. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last time. When it was announced that Igbinoghene was moving to defense, everyone scratched their head and wondered if it would work. Joey Gatewood was looked at as someone who could come in and shake things up in the backfield, but he’s getting reps elsewhere.
It’ll be interesting to see where everyone ends up in the end. Many of the players that have moved over to receiver may be due to the injuries that have already been suffered by Eli Stove and Will Hastings – injuries that could be season ending and we’re only in spring. We’ll see if Igbinoghene shifts back to receiver because of the injuries or stays at defensive back to the needed depth there as well.
4. How dominant is the defensive front?
These are the players I’m excited to see. So many great defensive players were recruited last year including local talent like KJ Britt from Oxford and TD Moultry from Jackson-Olin along with Big Kat Bryant from Georgia. It seems like Bryant has been the MVP of the spring so far, getting four sacks this past Saturday. The defensive line will probably look even better with the offensive line woes that are going on. Calvin Ashley was another prized recruit from a year ago who has been struggling and Madison Academy’s Austin Troxell may be starting in the fall instead.
Auburn needs that production on a pass rush with Jeff Holland moving on to the NFL. None of the returning players even had five sacks last year and Holland had ten. Marlon Davidson will look to get his numbers up after having 3.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss last year. Also returning are interior linemen Derrick Brown and Dontavious Russell.
Meanwhile, Auburn has to replace three starters in the secondary, which won’t be fun. So they need a dominant front seven.
5. Is Anders Carlson better than big brother Daniel?
According to Brandon Marcello he hit a 62-yarder this past Saturday. He has a lot to live up to with his brother being so consistent for Auburn. If he does meet or surpass expectations, it will be another four years of hell for teams around the SEC, and for Alabama who it doesn’t seem like has made a field goal in 30 years.