AUBURN | No. 15 Auburn lost two key backups this week, which could mean more playing time for several true freshmen.
Freshman Malik Willis moved up to the No. 2 quarterback position following the dismissal of Sean White Monday and freshman Tyrone Truesdell moved up a spot in the playing rotation at defensive tackle after Byron Cowart announced he was leaving the program Tuesday.
Willis, who was on track to redshirt this fall, is now expected to play behind starter Jarrett Stidham, perhaps as early as this Saturday’s SEC opener at Missouri. Willis has impressed during practices since enrolling in January.
“Just him being in college now and getting the offense and soaking it all up, that’s tremendous for somebody his age,” junior wide receiver and emergency backup quarterback Ryan Davis said.
“Obviously, he’s faster than Jarrett. That’s the difference between him and Jarrett. He has a strong arm. People are going to know he has a rocket cannon for an arm. He’s accurate, and he can make any throw.”
Truesdell has played in two of Auburn’s first three games as a backup, recording one tackle. He’s reshaped his body since arriving in Auburn in May, losing about 25 pounds.
“Truesdell is coming on,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.
The loss of Cowart also means more playing time at defensive tackle for second-team defensive end Nick Coe, which could also mean more opportunities for freshman Big Kat Bryant, who is currently third-team at d-end behind Marlon Davidson and Coe.
Bryant has played in all three games, tallying his first two career tackles along with 0.5 tackles-for-loss against Mercer last Saturday.
“(Bryant) is a guy that, his football, he takes it very seriously. He's not a guy that just kind of thinks you roll out there and play,” defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “He understands the process of getting prepared at this level so the mental aspect and the mental errors for him are minimal, no more than they'd be for any other player. That's good for a freshman. He plays with a good motor. He's got a lot of focus in terms of making sure he's doing his job.”
Several other freshmen have played in at least two games on defense this season including safety Jordyn Peters, linebacker K.J. Britt, Buck T.D. Moultry and cornerback Traivon Leonard.
Wide receiver Noah Igbinoghene and running back Devan Barrett are making strides on the offensive side of the ball. Igbinoghene had three catches for 24 yards against Mercer, and Barrett has accounted for 43 all-purpose yards including three receptions for 17 yards against the Bears.
“I think there are certain things Devan can do right now and certain things that I liked in the game plan that I thought fit him,” offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. “He got in and did a nice job. He was probably nervous. He got tripped up one time, which I think a guy like him, maybe he’ll score on that one the next time. But I thought he did a nice job, really, for his first significant action where we were trying to get him the ball.”
Kickoff at Memorial Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU.