AUBURN – Right tackle Jack Driscoll looked up from his chair, his jersey stained from the field in Jordan-Hare Stadium, sweat dripping down his hair and the summer heat still pouring off his body, knowing he’d been beat.
Auburn’s defense got the better of his offense Thursday during the team’s first scrimmage of the fall. He knew it. He sat upright and admitted it to the world.
He wasn’t the only one. Head coach Gus Malzahn said it, too, in his report under the stadium after the practice.
The defense forced three turnovers, including a pick-six by senior corner Javaris Davis, players said, on a pivotal sixth practice in Auburn’s fall camp.
What wasn’t decided, however, was a starting quarterback. The battle between redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood and true freshman Bo Nix will carry on for another week and through at least one more scrimmage, Malzahn said.
His freshmen made progress, he said. They learned, and so did the coaches. It’s different out there when they’re facing “live bullets,” Malzahn said.
Gatewood and Nix both made some good decisions and some bad decisions, Malzahn said Thursday, after his team put the ball down for 80-plus snaps in game-like scenarios at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
They’ll do it again next week — and maybe again after that — trying to find the man to take the first snap from behind center against Oregon on Aug. 31.
“There’s nothing like a scrimmage for a quarterback,” Malzahn said simply, just off the field after the team’s stadium practice in the scalding mid-day sun.
For the quarterbacks and other offensive players like Driscoll, the only thing left to do is re-focus and try to turn the heated competition around the next time the Tigers get back on the field.
“They got the best of us, no doubt, today,” Driscoll said of his defense, there in the media room under Jordan-Hare after the scrimmage.
“So we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board, watch film tonight and ultimately get ready to go and get the best of them next time, because we don’t want to let them beat us twice in a row.”
Malzahn said the first-team defense “dominated” the closed scrimmage. The Tigers also worked on special teams and third-down situations, he said.
“If I was a coordinator, I probably wouldn’t have a smile on my face right now, OK?” Malzahn said, considering his feelings watching his defense shine. “That’s probably the best way to put that.”
Defensive lineman Nick Coe put it simply: “The defense dominated. The offense threw three turnovers and everything — so it’s really good for us.”
Sitting quietly in his corner of the room, left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho knew Thursday’s scrimmage would ultimately help shape his offense, too.
“Going against one of the best, if not the best defense in the country actually improves our game, too,” Wanogho said. “We know we’ve got to play up to their standard and they help us play better as unit. So that’s good for us.”
The offense will have its chance to prove that the next time around.
“From a head coach’s standpoint, you want to win. You want the defense to be as good as it can be, offense be as good as it can be, and on days like this, my experience is, one group that doesn’t do well one day, they need to respond the next time,” Malzahn said. “So we’ll see if they’ll respond.
“That’s the good thing from a coach’s standpoint, but the reality is we’re pretty good on defense, too.”
Auburn practices again Friday before Saturday’s Fan Day event at the facility.
“Overall, it was a success from the standpoint of giving everybody a chance — evaluation,” Malzahn said. “It was hot and I think that’s really a positive thing, to find who will push through, who needs to push through a little bit more, and who was flying to the ball.
“This scrimmage will really be highly graded on effort and just our Auburn standard as far as that goes.”
Auburn is scheduled to scrimmage in the stadium again next Wednesday.
“Oh, 100 percent,” Malzahn said, when asked if he was going to need at least one more scrimmage to find a starter. “Yeah. They’re going to need as many reps as they can get back there behind (center). They’re going to need to feel that.”
The head coach will be looking for progress from his quarterbacks between now and Wednesday.
“Like I told them, the whole key is, you look at film, you look at the corrections, and then you come back and the next time, you improve,” Malzahn said. “If you don’t improve, that’s when things get concerning.
“But my experience is, the guys that can do it, they figure it out and the next time, they don’t make the same mistakes.”