AUBURN — Last year’s A-Day was a slog. It was cold and windy and raining. Starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham was sidelined due to injury, as were top two centers Kaleb Kim and Nick Brahms. The offense suffered because of it.
This year’s was the exact opposite. Auburn’s blue team (first-team offense and defense) defeated the orange (second-team) 28-10. The offenses combined for 653 total yards.
“I thought defense had a very good spring. I thought the offense did, too,” head coach Gus Malzahn said. “We talked about trying to get some depth and trying to get some of those younger guys to step up and I really feel like we accomplished those goals.”
Here are some non-quarterback observations from the Tigers’ 2019 spring game:
Williams goes off
Sophomore wide receiver Seth Williams was uncoverable Saturday. He finished the afternoon with four catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns on his way to earning offensive MVP honors. He also drew a pass interference penalty.
The 6-foot-3, 229-pound Williams made an over-the-shoulder catch on a 38-yard throw from Bo Nix to start the day, then high-pointed a pair of touchdown throws in the end zone from Joey Gatewood. The second one, from 29 yards out, was caught over the top of leaping defensive backs Roger McCreary and Jamien Sherwood.
Williams caught 26 passes for 534 yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman last season and is primed to have an even bigger year as a sophomore.
Matthew Hill, who did not catch a pass as a true freshman last season, hauled in five of 14 targets for 128 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown from Malik Willis and a 49-yard score from Nix.
Eli Stove, back to full strength after tearing his ACL last spring and being limited throughout a redshirt season in 2018, looked like his old self with 63 yards and a touchdown on four receptions.
Marquis McClain and John Samuel Shenker caught three passes each for 26 and 18 yards, respectively.
Auburn got that kind of production without speedster Anthony Schwartz, who has missed the entire spring while focusing on the spring track season.
New face at RB
There are no secrets at the top of Auburn’s running back depth chart. JaTarvious Whitlow carried seven times for 44 yards playing for the first-team offense, and senior Kam Martin totaled 20 yards on three carries.
But the most impressive running back on the field Saturday was true freshman D.J. Williams, who carried 10 times for 56 yards. The four-star signee out of Sebring, Fla., looked powerful running through defenders on one 7-yard run and elusive on a 29-yard gain a few plays after that.
He did it all running against Auburn’s vaunted first-team defense.
Joiner was everywhere
Last year, the Tigers tried to turn Harold Joiner into Charles Clay, having the running back signee play both H-back and tight end. This spring, they have shifted that role to more of the one Kerryon Johnson played as a freshman, which is part running back and part slot receiver.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound redshirt freshman looked the part Saturday, rushing six times for 21 yards and catching three passes for 28 yards. He also recovered a fumble.
Malzahn has said throughout the spring that Auburn’s offensive line looks” completely different” this spring compared to last, and he was proven correct on A-Day.
The first-team group allowed only one tackle for loss and zero sacks against the second-team defense and paved the way for a rushing attack that carried 25 times for 116 yards (4.6 yards per carry).
The improvement makes sense — last year, Prince Tega Wanogho, Marquel Harrell and Mike Horton had 19 starts between them, Jack Driscoll was a newcomer from UMass, and Kim was out with injury. This time around, they’re five senior starters with a wealth of experience.
The offense was the story Saturday, but the one notable thing that happened on defense was the injury to Chandler Wooten, who went down in the second quarter and had to be helped off the field and straight to the locker room by trainers.
Malzahn did not have an update on the Wooten other than to say that he suffered a knee injury.
That’s the last thing you want to see during the final practice of spring, especially considering the junior is expected to be a big part of a new-look linebacker group that also features K.J. Britt, Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe.
Britt said after the game that Wooten was in good spirits and expects to be back on the field in short order.