AUBURN | Just one injury away from being Auburn’s starting quarterback, Malik Willis finally saw his first college action Saturday at Missouri.
The true freshman entered the game at the end of the third quarter directing three drives that totaled 20 snaps. He completed 3-of-4 passes for just one yard and rushed for 11 yards on seven carries.
Willis’ highlights included a 12-yard run around the left end on his first snap that ended with a facemark penalty after his helmet was pulled off by Missouri defender DeMarkus Act, and a 38-yard touchdown pass to Griffin King, which was called back on a holding penalty. He also had a pair of 9-yard runs.
A sack and a couple of negative rushing plays cut down on his total production.
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“The first thing you can see is he can make some things happen with his feet,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “I thought he did a very good job on our zone read where he threw the touchdown pass that got called back. I was very impressed with that. He needs more experience. I think it was good for him to get out there and get a complete quarter of work in because like I’ve said before, he’s done a really good job in scrimmage-type situations up to this point.
“It was good for Chip (Lindsey) to be able to get him out there and get used to him a little bit and how he’s going to react in certain situations. But overall, we were pleased with the way he’s performed.”
Willis wasn’t the only backup or true freshman to receive invaluable playing experience in a conference road game.
Wide receiver Noah Igbinoghene and running back Devan Barrett, both true freshmen, continued to contribute on offense. Several backup offensive linemen including sophomores Kaleb Kim, Tyler Carr and Marquel Harrell were able to play a good portion of the fourth quarter. Running back Malik Miller and wide receiver Marquis McClain, both redshirt freshmen, got extended snaps.
Seven true freshmen played on defense in defensive tackle Tyrone Truesdell, defensive end Big Kat Bryant, Buck T.D. Moultry, linebackers Chandler Wooten and K.J. Britt, cornerback Traivon Leonard and nickel Jordyn Peters, who had his first-career sack.
Also playing extended snaps on defense were sophomore defensive tackle Gary Walker and sophomore cornerback John Broussard.
“From an experience standpoint to get them out there, there's nothing like a game, especially in our league,” Malzahn said. “If you get a chance to get guys that don't play that much and you see what they do, it helps with your team morale and then everything. And then we already talked about the quarterback.
“I mean, it was huge to get him a good quarter of experience out there running the offense and getting to know him a little better. That was huge. I think on the defensive side of the football, I think we had seven true freshmen out there that were playing. That definitely helps. And then, of course, the No. 2 offensive line really got a lot of work. I thought that was good, too.”
No. 13 Auburn returns to action this Saturday against No. 24 Mississippi State. Kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium is set for 5 p.m. CT on ESPN.