Freshman wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers made his first college catch vs. Arkansas State.
Auburn, Ala.--The first two games of the football season for the Auburn Tigers on offense have been a contrast in production for Gus Malzahn’s team, but the one constant has been the willingness to use young players to get the job done.
That is something that Malzahn has done dating back to playing Marcus Davis in a key role during the 2013 season, but this year will see much more dependence on freshmen to deliver for the Auburn offense. While it’s not ideal, Malzahn said that’s what you sign up for when you bring in talented players on the roster.
“I think it's the way that you recruit,” Malzahn said. “Guys want to play earlier. A lot of guys, especially if you have a good recruiting class, there's a chance they could come out in three years. I think that's really been what's happened with us. I'm not sure about everyone around the country. We played 10 true freshmen the other night and 18 freshmen all together. We're still relatively young in some areas and that's encouraging as far as moving forward.”
With wide receiver Kyle Davis making big plays against both Clemson and Arkansas State, he has been the main focus of the attention for the freshmen on offense along with redshirt Darius Slayton ( three catches for 55 yards), but they're not only new contributors. Nate Craig and Elijah Stove have also been part of the offense at wide receiver with Kameron Martin and Malik Miller both getting into the action at running back.
Building a lead against Arkansas State last Saturday also gave the Tigers a chance to get the second offensive line into the game as well. That meant the first game action for offensive tackle Prince Tega Wanogho Jr., center Kaleb Kim and guard Marquel Harrell with Mike Horton and Darius James filling out the rest of the group.
Prince Tega Wanogho made a move from defensive end to offensive tackle this preseason.
While the experience for the young offensive linemen is important the skill players are going to be counted on to help this season. That has already happened with Davis and Craig, and Malzahn said the time is coming for Martin and Miller to be called on for a bigger role.
“Those are two guys that we'll need to count on later in the season,” Malzahn said of the freshmen backs. “Not only did they get in there with the two offensive line but both of them got reps with the one offensive line, which is kind of rare with the way we've done things in the past. To give those guys some confidence and experience, that will do nothing but help us later on because we'll need both of those guys before the season's out.”
Perhaps as important as playing the young guys is being able to trust them to make plays. As a play caller that is a must for Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee because when they call on a player they’re counting on him to deliver.
““I think it helps a lot,” the head coach said. “I think I said this last week, but we’re still learning about a lot of our guys. If you look out there we put some true freshmen out there at skill positions at times and just let them play. In the past we might have just put them in for a play or two, but we let them play.
Gus Malzahn is in his fourth season as head coach of the Tigers.
“Just learning about them and giving them the experience they need to improve," Malzahn said. "That was kind of our mindset last week that we’re going to play these young guys and let them play and hopefully the comfort level for them to play every play in and out and be able to execute at a high level.
“As far as the execution standpoint that’s kind of what we talked about in the offseason. We’ve always prided ourselves on executing at a high level. The frustrating thing last year and really the first game is that we didn’t execute at a high level. That’s our goal and like I said, offensively, we’re still a work in progress. We’ve got to keep improving. We’re starting to kind of put the pieces to the puzzle, but we’re still learning about our guys. Hopefully, in a short period of time we’ll have everything with what we’re going to do moving forward.”