Auburn football: What’s the harm in giving Malik Willis a series here and there?

Could Auburn use a dose of Malik Willis to jump start the offense? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Could Auburn use a dose of Malik Willis to jump start the offense? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Auburn football team is 4-1 and that’s all well and good, but any Auburn football fan knows that things aren’t all well and good.

Everyone knows that eventually, the defense isn’t going to be able to keep an opponent out of the end zone at a crucial time. The difficult part of the schedule still is ahead of the Tigers.

That’s not a knock on the defense, it’s just the truth. Give your opponent enough opportunities, eventually it’s going to happen. But that defense is good enough to keep Auburn in every game it plays. It’s good enough to lead Auburn to victories in many of them.

The offense? That’s another story.

And what we’re about to say isn’t meant to be a knock on Jarrett Stidham. The Auburn quarterback throws as pretty of a pass as you’ll see. He’s accurate with the deep ball. He wants to win and he’s as much of a competitor as Auburn has on this team. He played well, for the most part, against Southern Miss. He threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns.

But right now, he’s not the best fit in this offense.

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The offensive line is struggling big time to protect him. This week’s game at Mississippi State will provide an even more difficult test against a talented defensive front. Auburn may be going into it without its two starting tackles in Jack Driscoll and Prince Tega Wanogho. Who knows right now if that’s a good or bad thing?

So what’s the harm in giving Malik Willis some snaps? I’m not saying bench Stidham, start Willis. Give Stidham a breather here and there in an attempt to keep defenses guessing. Aren’t you curious to see what a dual-threat QB in this offense can do? Even if it’s for 3-4 possessions per game?

Here’s a look at how Auburn’s offensive possessions turned out Saturday against Southern Miss:

Missed FG
Field goal

No need to go back through them, that’s eight punts. In other words, that’s a lot of opportunities for a quarterback with the skill set that Willis has. He may not be the passer Stidham is, but he has a strong arm.

How many times Saturday night did Stidham hand off to Kam Martin or JaTarvious Whitlow and the Southern Miss defense swarmed them near the line of scrimmage? How many times did you watch that play and think: If Stidham holds onto that ball he’d still be running?

But that’s not Stidham’s game.

And defenses are teeing off against Auburn’s run game. Gus Malzahn insisted after the game that for the offense to improve, it has to be able to run the ball. But doing the same thing over and over isn’t the solution. This offensive line isn’t going to suddenly open bus-size holes to run through and Stidham isn’t going to start running 8-10 times per game on the option keeper.

But Willis could.

Auburn has punted 18 times in its past three games and turned the ball over on downs twice when it failed to convert on fourth-and-short. That’s 20 possessions in which nothing happened. No points, no almost points. It feels reasonable to give Willis a series here and there.

Maybe coaches don’t think he’s ready for the level of competition that awaits the Tigers. But if Stidham continues running for his life, the possibility of an injury rises. The backup always is one play from being the starter.

Look around the country:

Alabama is playing two quarterbacks. Yes, Tua Tagovailoa is No. 1, but Jalen Hurts has been very efficient in relief. Both are completing at least 70 percent of their throws and both are threats with their feet.

Clemson allowed Kelly Bryant to leave the program in favor of freshman Trevor Lawrence. Bryant was completing 66 percent of his passes for 456 yards, two touchdowns with 144 rushing yards and two more scores. And oh yeah, last season Bryant threw for 2,802 yards, 13 TDs, eight interceptions and ran for 665 yards and 11 scores.

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The object of the game still is to win, right?

If experimenting with Willis provides positive results, then great for Auburn. To make it work, the coaches would have to allow Willis to throw the ball forward and not just bubble screens. Right now, it’s too obvious that Auburn has to pass with Stidham. It can’t be so obvious that Auburn will only run with Willis.

If it leads to a punt, then what has Auburn forfeited?