After making the mistake of saying publicly Sunday that Auburn’s coaching staff will re-evaluate the quarterback situation, Auburn coach Gene Chizik made the best call he could Tuesday by re-affirming support for the so-so option.
That means Barrett Trotter will remain the starter for No. 24 Auburn’s home game Saturday against Florida.
It also means Chizik didn’t have a better option, pure and simple.
Chizik can deflect blame by talking about dropped passes, and there were a handful in the Tigers’ 38-14 loss at No. 10 Arkansas on Saturday.
Chizik can put the blame share on six holding penalties, and they happened at Arkansas.
But none of these things happen in a vacuum, and the truth is that Auburn doesn’t have the pieces to be a strong offense this season. That’s been evident since halfway through the second quarter of the Clemson game.
Auburn’s opponents are on to the Tigers’ limitations, and they’re on to Trotter’s limitations.
Even when Auburn gets injured players like Emory Blake back, it won’t change the fact that Auburn’s opponents know Trotter is no threat to run.
When he scrambles, they know to keep eyes and bodies glued to receivers.
When he lines up to run the read option, they know he’s going to handoff to either running back Michael Dyer straight ahead or speed back Onterio McCalebb coming across in motion.
There is no dual-threat quarterback making opponents defend three options like Auburn had a year ago with Cam Newton, and it makes everything harder.
That’s why Auburn’s best chance to score comes on big plays, not long drives. Somewhere along the way, Auburn will have negative plays like holding penalties or drops.
The line must protect a quarterback who is no threat to cross the line of scrimmage, and blanket coverage makes him hold the ball longer. Receivers have to work harder to get open and catch off-timed passes.
Everything is harder for Auburn’s offense than it was a year ago, and it shows in how the offense is averaging fewer than 20 points (19.25) over the past four games.
That would be reason to change quarterbacks, if Auburn had a better answer. It doesn’t.
Backup Clint Moseley lost a long and close battle with Trotter for the starting job in preseason. There must have been a reason why he lost.
True freshman Kiehl Frazier has shown in spot duty as the wildcat quarterback that he can run and make Auburn’s running game hard to stop, but he’s a true freshman.
And Frazier’s two interceptions at Arkansas showed that he’s not nearly ready to handle the passing element of Auburn’s offense. Those interceptions came when Auburn’s coaching staff dared to let him pass over the line of scrimmage.
Chizik did Trotter no favors by announcing that he and his staff would re-evaluate quarterbacks after the Arkansas game. He made the announcement at a time when Auburn fans are already antsy.
Better to do that re-evaluation quietly, especially when the outcome is so predictable.
Trotter is Auburn’s best option as the starting quarterback.
Frazier is the only option as the wildcat quarterback.
Until Frazier shows marked improvement in the passing game or Moseley shows something new, that’s the way it is.
And better to let Frazier develop slowly than let him shatter his own confidence or Auburn’s chances at a bowl this season.
Trotter will likely return to serviceable form when injured players, like wide receiver Emory Blake, return. At least Blake can stretch a defense deep and add to Trotter’s limited options.
Unless Frazier’s learning curve speeds up dramatically, it’s clear that a serviceable Trotter is Auburn’s best option this season.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.