AUBURN — Seth Williams showed, again, the type of impact he is capable of making when he leapt high over the head of a Tulane defender to pull down a 40-yard completion from Bo Nix on Saturday, setting up a touchdown two plays late.
He also showed the type of playmaking ability Auburn will be without for at least one game.
Williams injured his left shoulder on the play and watched the rest of the Tigers' 24-6 victory from the sideline in street clothes with his left arm in a sling. On Tuesday, head coach Gus Malzahn announced that the sophomore wide receiver will not play Saturday against Kent State and will be considered "day to day" going forward.
Auburn opens SEC play the following week at Texas A&M.
"We'll see where he's at," Malzahn said.
Not having Williams available for any amount of time is a brutal blow to a wide receiving corps that is thin on experience even with him. The 6-foot-3 sophomore is Auburn's leading returning receiver from last season, when he totaled 26 receptions for 534 yards and five touchdowns, and he caught a crucial third-down completion and the game-winning 26-yard touchdown from Nix in the final seconds against Oregon in Week 1.
The Tigers' second-leading returning receiver, sophomore speedster Anthony Schwartz, has been healthy to play in the team's first two games this season but not healthy enough to contribute — he hasn't recorded a catch or carry as he continues to play with a heavy wrap on the left hand he broke Aug. 4.
"He's going to practice more and more each week. This week, he'll be on the field more than he was last week," Malzahn said. "As far as taking the cast off, that's a week-to-week deal. I don't know exactly when that's going to be. Hopefully sooner rather than later, but I can't guarantee that it'll be the next week, either. But he will be on the field more and more each game."
Senior slot man Will Hastings leads Auburn with 113 receiving yards and a touchdown on six catches. Junior Eli Stove leads the team with 10 receptions, which he has turned into 45 yards and a score. Both players missed most of last season after tearing their ACLs during the spring of 2018.
Only two other wide receivers have caught passes this season — Sal Cannella (three receptions for 52 yards) and Matthew Hill (two for 11). H-back/tight ends Spencer Nigh and John Samuel Shenker have one catch for 9 yards each.
"It’s the next man up," Cannella said. "Of course, we’re hoping (Williams) recovers as fast as possible to get back out there, because that’s a guy we need him out there. At the same time, we’ve got an opponent to face this week and we’re going to go out to battle with the guys we’ve got and I’m confident that we’ll get the job done."
So who steps up in place of Williams? Auburn would probably like it to be Schwartz, who was listed next to Williams at the split end position on the depth chart and is an explosive playmaker in his own right — he caught 22 passes for 357 yards to go along with his 211 rushing yards as a freshman last season (and is also an elite track sprinter). But whether he's able to depends on his health.
Junior Marquis McClain played split end in place of Williams in the second half against Tulane, but he has just two career catches and none since the 2017 season.
Graduate transfer Zach Farrar was brought in this offseason to challenge for that role, but he has yet to see the field through two games.
"Week-by-week, I think he's making more progress," Malzahn said. "He's getting more comfortable. He's getting a lot of practice reps. It's just a matter of when he gets comfortable enough to be able to execute the whole offense. He is improving. He just needs to keep doing that same thing, and he'll be on the field shortly."
A player to watch against Kent State on Saturday might be Hill. Both of the redshirt freshman's catches this season (one in each game) have come near the line of scrimmage, but he turned in a standout performance during the team's spring game in April (five catches, 128 yards, one touchdown) and earned the special teams helmet sticker against Tulane.
"I think there's a maturity part that he's starting to take that next step. So, that was very encouraging," Malzahn said. "He did make some plays when he was in there on offense. He played with physicality, blocking, when he was on offense, too. Overall, he probably had his best game since he's been here."