AUBURN, Ala. — It appears Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn has pondered his quarterback depth chart since Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois suffered a season-ending injury against Alabama on Saturday night.
The Tigers can turn to backup Sean White when he returns from a suspension, but that won’t be until Sept. 16 against Mercer. So Malzahn opened the door for freshman Malik Willis to play Saturday at No. 3 Clemson in case of an injury to starter Jarrett Stidham.
“Yeah, if it’s a long-term injury, Malik Willis will be the next guy in,” Malzahn said. “If it’s just a play or two, obviously, we’ll try to be as smart as we can in that.”
There are a lot of “what ifs” when it comes to Malzahn’s quarterback depth, and he isn’t yet being pressed to make a decision.
“We’ll just see where everything falls out,” Malzahn said. “Sean is our No. 2 quarterback right now. We’ll just see where everything falls out with that. He’ll be back Week 3 and we expect him to be ready to go.”
Malzahn has said “in a perfect world” Auburn would like to redshirt Willis. But the Atlanta native has made quite the impression, drawing comparisons to former quarterback Nick Marshall because of his mobility. So Auburn’s offensive game plan likely would remain intact if Willis plays.
“I never would rule out Malik Willis after some deals I’ve gone through with quarterbacks in the past in my career playing a lot of guys,” said offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. “Too early to rule him out for sure.”
The Tigers are well aware of the imperfect world in which they live.
“You know, there’s no doubt about that,” Malzahn said. “I think we’ve learned the last two years that we have to have that No. 2 guy ready and possibly a No. 3 guy ready. Yeah, with the defenses nowadays, you’ve got to have those other guys ready, there’s no doubt about that.”
Auburn’s coaches didn’t spend time debating whether to play Willis against Georgia Southern. It wasn’t a priority. Malzahn said they wanted to get through Clemson before strategizing for “the rest of the year.” It’s not that Willis isn’t good enough to play.
“Malik’s ready and Malik, like I’ve said before, has impressed us numerous times,” Malzahn said. “And he’s got a lot of practice reps. I think he’ll be ready to go if called upon if there’s an injury.”
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