After the Auburn rushing attack put in its worst season since 2012, finishing 10th in the SEC with 167 yards a game in 2018, Gus Malzahn has emphasized pounding the football and the downhill run game heading into fall camp.
Having an effective running game is a must for a Gus Malzahn offense, which functions best when the run sets up the play-action pass.
"In this league, if you're going to win a championship, you have to be able to run the football effectively, and you have to get where they're rolling an extra safety down, and then you got one-on-ones on the outside," said Malzahn at SEC Media Days. "Our philosophy is run the football and throw it deep. And whatever the defense gives us, that's what we should be able to do."
Malzahn should get more help from the quarterback position in the run game than he had last year with Jarrett Stidham under center.
Redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood and true freshman Bo Nix will continue their battle for the starting quarterback spot during fall camp. They both bring similar skill sets to the table as dual-threat quarterbacks, although Gatewood is likely a bigger threat to run between the tackles at 6-foot-5, 233 pounds.
"There’s no doubt he’s an imposing runner. There’s no doubt as far as that," said Malzahn when asked whether Gatewood was a stronger runner than Nix. "But I will say this about Bo — he can flat out run, too. He’s a very, very good athlete. Both those guys are going to be run threats. When we’ve had a run threat at quarterback, that’s really a game-changer, as far as defenses having to prepare."
Auburn fans got a glimpse of Gatewood's potential in the Music City Bowl, where he rushed three times for 28 yards after the game was well in hand. He also performed well passing in the A-Day game, completing 8 of 11 passes for 130 yards and two scores. Nix, who enrolled early, also looked sharp in the A-Day game, connecting on 11 of 17 attempts for 155 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Malzahn said there's no timetable for picking the starter in fall camp.
"I really don’t have any kind of goal or anything," he said. "We’re just going to go with it. We’ve got a good plan to evaluate our quarterbacks and put them in as many situations as possible. And then, when it’s time, usually what happens is that the whole team usually knows it, you know. So whenever that time happens, we’re going to name a starting quarterback. I hope that is earlier rather than later, but I’m not going to try to push it. I’m just going to let it happen."