The process of replacing quarterback Jarrett Stidham began in earnest Saturday, as the Orange team defeated the Blue team 28-10 in the Auburn A-Day spring game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama.
True freshman Bo Nix and redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood emerged as the top two candidates to succeed Stidham under center, as they both put up big numbers.
Nix went 11-of-17 for 155 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, while Gatewood threw for 130 yards and two touchdowns on 8-of-12 passing. Nix and Gatewood benefited from facing the second-team offense in the first half before switching from Orange to Blue in order to face the No. 1 defense in the second half.
Junior quarterback Malik Willis was in the opposite boat, and while he wasn't quite as impressive as Nix and Gatewood, he still acquitted himself well with 85 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-10 passing.
The quarterbacks weren't the only offensive stars, as wide receivers Seth Williams and Matthew Hill put up big numbers as well. Williams racked up four receptions for 103 yards and two touchdowns for Orange, and Hill registered four grabs for 93 yards and two scores while splitting time with both teams.
Williams was named the offensive MVP of the game.
Saturday's game started off with a bang when Willis gave Blue the early lead on a 41-yard touchdown pass to Hill, who located and caught the ball beautifully:
After that, it was essentially all Orange for the remainder of the first half.
Nix tied the game shortly after Willis gave Blue the lead when he rolled to the right and threw against the grain to hit wideout Eli Stove for an 11-yard score:
Josh Vitale of the Montgomery Advertiser and Tucker Sargent of 41NBC were among those who liked what they saw out of the true freshman signal-caller on his first drive:
Blue kicked a field goal to take a 10-7 lead, but on the first play of the second quarter, Gatewood connected with Williams on an 11-yard touchdown that saw Williams come down with the ball in traffic.
Gatewood and Williams hooked up again shortly thereafter when Williams won the ball in double coverage for a 29-yard touchdown to help make it 21-10 in favor of Orange. AL.com's Tom Green noted how the touchdown was all about Williams' ability to attack the football:
Auburn running back and track star Shaun Shivers didn't have the words to describe Williams' impressive catch:
In the closing moments of the first half, Nix helped to extend the Orange lead to 28-10 with a 49-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Hill.
Although Orange was all over Blue in the first half, there were some positives for the Blue team. In addition to Willis' touchdown pass to Hill, freshman running back D.J. Williams ran the ball effectively.
Williams finished with 55 yards on 11 carries for the game, and Benjamin Wolk of Rivals was one of many who praised his performance:
While JaTarvious Whitlow and Kam Martin are penciled in as the top two running backs on Auburn's depth chart, Williams' performance suggests that he could work his way into the rotation.
With a running clock in the second half, neither offense could get anything going, resulting in no scoring over the final two quarters.
Head coach Gus Malzahn has several options as it relates to the starting quarterback battle, and although he is likely happy with how the candidates performed, there isn't yet a clear front-runner to take over for Stidham.
That will undoubtedly be the biggest storyline surrounding the Tigers as they prepare for the regular-season opener against Oregon on Aug. 31.