AUBURN – There’s nothing like the real deal.
Auburn’s stepping into Jordan-Hare Stadium to find it, strapping in and gearing up for full-speed football and fierce competition Thursday morning on the Tigers’ home field.
Just about the all that could be missing will be the thousands of roaring fans — and those fierce, teeth-sinking SEC foes who line Auburn’s schedule this season.
They’ll be coming soon enough, and that’s why Auburn’s firing up its first scrimmage of the fall to get ready for live action.
“Usually the first scrimmage of fall camp, it gives you a lot of information — what you need to start putting the pieces to the puzzle,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said this week.
The scrimmage in Jordan-Hare will mark Auburn’s sixth practice of preseason camp. Auburn fought through its first day in full pads on Tuesday and took the camp’s first off day on Wednesday to get set for today’s game-like scrimmage, which will push older and younger players alike as coaches evaluate players in position battles and continue to install schemes.
The only thing keeping the scrimmage from full-speed football will be the orange non-contact jerseys on the quarterbacks, and the quick whistle used to keep them upright.
Quarterbacks Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix will not ‘go live’ or practice full-contact in the scrimmage, but there’s plenty for the coaches to gain in watching them run the offense in game-like situations on days like today, Malzahn said after Auburn’s last practice on Tuesday.
“Who can protect the football? Who can move the offense? Who can energize the offense? — and everything that goes with that,” he said.
Thursday’s practice will be as important as any for them, as the two jockey for the starting spot ahead of Auburn’s first game against Oregon on Aug. 31 in AT&T Stadium in Texas.
The coaches’ eyes will also be trained on two newcomer veterans who have the chance to become important pieces this fall, in graduate transfer receiver Zach Farrar and graduate transfer tight end Jay Jay Wilson.
“It will be a really big scrimmage for them,” Malzahn said of those two. Farrar comes to Auburn from Youngstown State after originally signing with Oklahoma out of high school. Wilson transferred from Arizona State. “We’ve got some good work out of them, but we’ll see what we do when we put the ball down and it’s tackle.
“Then you have the freshmen,” Malzahn went on. “We’ll be simple and let them play fast. We put quite a bit of install in so far, so when you do that a lot of times they’re thinking so much and you can’t just react. Really, in some cases we really haven’t seen what they can truly do. We’ll be simple enough in our scrimmage where it will just let them play. That will be good to see, too.”
That’s the plan for Auburn, to run base offense and base defense and let the players fire at full speed with confidence in what they’re doing.
Auburn offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham will be on the sideline, Malzahn said, while the head coach will be behind the action on the field orchestrating the chaos.
Auburn’s quarterbacks played full contact during one scrimmage in the spring, but the Tigers plan to keep them non-contact throughout the fall.
Gatewood is a redshirt freshman and Nix is a true freshman, and one way or the other, one will be making his first start for Auburn against Oregon at the end of the month.
“In the spring we had that big scrimmage and we let them go live. There’s not a whole lot of programs this day and time that will let the quarterbacks go live. But I felt like it was real important with what we had, especially being the freshmen,” Malzahn said. “We really learned a lot and I think it was really good for them to feel what it feels like to get tackled in college football and what it’s like to go live.
“But we’re in a good spot, I think, with our plan to make them non-contact the rest of the fall.”
Thursday’s scrimmage will be closed to the public and to media. Auburn will open up the practice facility Saturday for its annual Fan Day autograph signing event.