A train wreck.

That was the best way to describe Joey Gatewood’s Auburn debut during A-Day last year. Gatewood lacked a couple of pretty important things for a quarterback — confidence and accuracy. The notion that he was Cam Newton 2.0 looked equal parts ridiculous and silly.

Sure, he was only an early enrollee and with Jarrett Stidham back, it was foolish for anyone to think that Gatewood was going to be ready to go from the jump. But yes, it was still a train wreck of a first performance.

A complete 180.

That was the best way to describe Gatewood’s performance during A-Day last weekend. Gatewood showed off a couple of pretty important things for a quarterback — confidence and accuracy. This notion that he was Cam Newton 2.0 was brought up by his teammates, even though Gatewood protested.

Sure, he’s in the midst of a 4-quarterback battle and with Bo Nix looking every bit like the quarterback of the future, it’s foolish to think that Saturday’s performance will be the lone reason that Gatewood starts this year. But yes, it was still a complete 180.

For that, I tip my cap to Gatewood.

That’s without knowing if he’s going to be the starter. In my opinion, Saturday at least trimmed the battle to 3 with Nix and Malik Willis also in position to win the gig to start 2019. That has yet to be determined. Gus Malzahn might already have a clear-cut favorite and he’s simply playing some mind games to prevent someone like Gatewood or Willis from transferring now.

Whatever the case, it looks like Malzahn has plenty of capable options. And it appears that Gatewood is one of them.

It’s worth remembering that a year ago, Gatewood was an “athlete” recruit. Scouts like 247sports’ Barton Simmons said that they didn’t think Gatewood was a quarterback. After how shaky Gatewood looked throwing the ball last year in A-Day, I was certainly closer to that belief than any Newton comparison.

But last Saturday was going to be a major test for Gatewood for a variety of reasons. All of the reports following last year’s A-Day were about how much improvement he was showed in practice. It’s hard to really know that without seeing it on display. If you recall, Gatewood was redshirted as a true freshman. He wasn’t even on the travel roster until mid-October. The only action he saw was in the Music City Bowl during Auburn’s demolition of Purdue.

Saturday was also interesting for Gatewood because quarterbacks weren’t live (unlike the scrimmage Auburn had a couple weeks ago). That’s actually tough for a running quarterback playing with 1-hand touch rules. That means in order to look good as a dual-threat quarterback in a spring game setting, you have to make some impressive throws. Unlike last year, Gatewood did just that:

Is some of that Seth Williams making nice plays in coverage? Sure. But at least Gatewood already has that trust in him to go up and make a play, which Williams is clearly capable of.

I’ll take that version of Gatewood over the guy last year who looked like he was being clocked on a radar gun at a minor league baseball game.

The guy we saw on Saturday could lead an SEC offense. And the best thing was, that was really only half of Gatewood. Malzahn said after the game that Gatewood is a different player when he’s live. It’s not hard to see why. If he’s allowed to run dudes over, that takes his game to a different place than anybody on that roster.

I can’t help but think that Gatewood was a major reason Malzahn made the uncharacteristic decision to have quarterbacks go live a couple weeks ago. Seeing how well Gatewood and Auburn’s quarterbacks can handle a hit against real SEC defenders is a major factor to consider.

It’d be fascinating to know what Malzahn’s quarterback pecking order looked like before and after Saturday. I can’t help but think that Gatewood rose on that list. That’s a credit to all the work he put in becoming a true dual-threat and not just a running threat. Some freshmen in that position might’ve transferred. Now, it looks like Gatewood is a legitimate threat to take Auburn’s first snap of 2019.

Gatewood said doesn’t want to be compared to Newton, and it’s safe to say he’d like his first A-Day to be his last “train wreck” performance. For now, there’s probably only one thing Gatewood hopes to be described as.

Starting Auburn quarterback.