Plainsman sports writer Zach Tantillo opines on Auburn's 52-21 Iron Bowl loss to No. 1 Alabama in this Auburn Notebook.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The present may seem bleak, but the future is still bright for the Auburn Tigers.
Following the 52-21 throttling by archrival Alabama, Auburn fans may be ready to hit the panic button on the state of the football program. But with a youthful core that has seen serious play time this season, there might be a silver lining to the disappointing season.
Auburn’s roster is littered with young playmakers on both sides of the ball that can help the Tigers have a bounce-back year in 2019.
The offense had the most notable use of young talent with utilizing freshmen as a focal point of the offense. Receivers like Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams were thrown into the fire with the injuries to Eli Stove and Will Hastings. The freshman duo did not disappoint, accumulating nearly a third of the receiving yardage this season.
Schwartz hopped into the jet sweep role that was left vacant by Stove and performed well when given an opportunity. The speedster was fourth on the team in rushing yards and tied for the lead in rushing touchdowns.
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The wide receiver tandem is joined by a youthful backfield that should return its top-six rushers. JaTarvious Whitlow – a redshirt freshman – won the starting running back role, but a slew of injuries kept him from being a consistent threat. Shaun Shivers provided a spark in the second-string role – including a 100-yard performance against Alabama State.
“I think a lot of people lose sight of the fact that Boobee Whitlow and Shaun Shivers are just freshmen,” junior receiver Darius Slayton said. “They've got a lot to learn. Someone like Pettway or Kerryon leaves, and people are like, 'Ah, man, we don't have any more talented backs.' You're seeing the junior version of Kerryon, the senior version of Pettway (in 2017). They were good when they were freshmen, too, but they weren't what they were when they were juniors and seniors.
“I think you'll see the same progression out of our young backs and even our young receivers. You've seen flashes out of Seth and Flash and guys like that. I think the future is bright.”
The high usage rate gave the young offensive playmakers plenty of chances to prove themselves, but that does not mean they don’t have room to improve.
“I feel like we have a lot to grow, especially all of us—me, Seth, Matthew Hill, Shedrick Jackson, Shaun Shivers and Boobee—we’re all going to grow,” Schwartz said. “We all just got inputted in really quickly, but now we have a year under our belt and have the system down. I feel like next year we have a lot more to prove.”
Auburn’s biggest weakness this season was the offensive line play and its lack of experience heading into the season. As of right now, it is looking like the entire unit will be returning for next season, which is a good sign for the Tigers’ offense.
"We're young, especially up front. We've got everybody up front coming back,” said junior tackle Jack Driscoll. “We have a lot of young receivers that you guys have seen make plays all year. Offensively — and defensively we can say the same thing — we've got a lot of guys who are coming back and a lot of good recruits coming in. Every year, you gotta go into it think you've got a chance to win it, and I 100 percent believe we do with the talent we have at Auburn. There's no reason we can't duplicate what teams have done in the past here."
The loss against Alabama will sting for a few days, but Malzahn knows the team can bounce back and use this loss like ones in years’ past.
“I will say this, we’ve got a whole bunch of young guys,” Malzahn said. “The majority of our team will come back, and we’ll rebound from this, I promise you that. We got beat pretty good two years ago here and bounced back the next year. I expect us to do the same thing.”
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