Should Auburn follow Ole Miss' lead and play QB Woody Barrett?
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze’s decision to burn Shea Patterson’s redshirt late in the season was met with skepticism.
Despite an obvious need to replace injured starter Chad Kelly, some viewed the move as questionable considering the Rebels only had three regular season games remaining and no guarantee of qualifying for a bowl game. Why go that long into the redshirt process just to spoil it?
But Freeze’s decision paid off as the freshman led Ole Miss to a 29-28 upset at Texas A&M in Week 11. Patterson threw for 338 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on 25-of-42 passing, while also rushing for 64 yards on 15 attempts.
Now, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn faces a similar situation. Starting quarterback Sean White is questionable for Saturday’s game against Alabama A&M. White has played through injuries throughout the season, including during a relief appearance two weeks ago against Georgia.
But the sophomore reportedly “aggravated” a previous shoulder injury and refrained from notifying his coaches during Saturday’s loss, according to AL.com.
“A guy came on a blitz or something,” White told AL.com. “(He) hit me and (the ball) came free after I threw the ball and just kind of aggravated something. … I think I could have done a better job letting the coaches know. I wanted to play with my team and I wanted to try to win.”
“We’ll play him when he’s healthy,” Malzahn said during his press conference Tuesday. He also noted that backups John Franklin III and Jeremy Johnson would be ready if needed.
Auburn has played all three quarterbacks this season and White has clearly been the best option. Franklin and Johnson have been inconsistent passers and, despite possessing dual-threat abilities, have provided little to the offense.
But there’s another option available: true freshman quarterback Woody Barrett. Barrett rated as a four-star prospect and ranked as the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback, as well as the No. 219 overall player from the 2016 national recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings.
Like Patterson, he has spent his entire first season redshirting. But speculation grew Sunday after he shared a since deleted tweet that might have implied he would play in Saturday’s game.
Woody Barrett has since deleted this tweet: pic.twitter.com/spmpsLHLDT
— James Crepea (@JamesCrepea) November 13, 2016
Keep in mind, Auburn was coming off a disappointing 13-7 loss to Georgia, a game in which White struggled. It’s also worth noting that the tweet was shared hours after Patterson’s impressive debut.
Perhaps Malzahn’s hand was forced when he saw how the freshman sparked Ole Miss’ offense to a big upset win. And granted, the tweet could have been an unrelated coincidence, but it’s worth looking into, especially since Barrett deleted it shortly after.
If anything, it would be better for Auburn to play Barrett against an opponent like Alabama A&M to gain some confidence before throwing him into a starting role in the Iron Bowl at Alabama if White can’t go. But like Malzahn said, it’s a matter of whether White is able to play.
The sophomore has been solid, especially during its recently snapped six-game winning streak. There’s little chance Patterson would have played if Ole Miss didn’t lose Kelly for the remainder of the season. That’s the difference in these two scenarios.
Then again, it is Alabama A&M, which would provide White with a week of rest before the Iron Bowl.
Still, that wouldn’t be worth burning Barrett’s redshirt. As uninspiring as Franklin and Johnson have been, they’re both still capable of beating Alabama A&M. Unless, of course, the bigger picture is that White can’t go against the Tide next weekend.
Then maybe you roll the dice with the true freshman and hope he gains some confidence against a smaller program before facing the nation’s top-ranked team. Really, the redshirt concept isn’t that big of a deal considering any player is eligible to leave for the NFL after his third college season, anyway.
Let’s assume Barrett actually lives up to or exceeds his four-star hype. That means he’ll be just as likely to leave as a redshirt sophomore as a junior. So really, what are you saving him for?
Overall, it’s a matter of rushing an inexperienced quarterback in too soon and ruining his confidence. That’s the biggest concern for playing Barrett this late in the season. Longterm, the whole redshirt concept won’t matter if he’s actually one of the nation’s best dual-threat quarterbacks.
And it’s also a matter of whether White can play during the next two weeks. If that’s the case, it’s unlikely Auburn will burn Barrett’s redshirt and we’ll have to wait until 2017 to see him step on the field.