AUBURN — Anthony Schwartz caught three passes for 40 yards in Auburn’s Week 1 victory over Kentucky. Afterward, coach Gus Malzahn promised that the junior wide receiver would be more of a focal point in the offense going forward.
It was nothing fans haven’t heard before. They’ve been begging to see more of arguably the fastest player in college football — he’s run the 100-meter dash in 10.07 seconds — ever since he signed with the Tigers as a four-star prospect from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2018. The results, as of two weeks ago, had been inconsistent.
But Malzahn and, perhaps more importantly, first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris have made good on that promise over the past two weeks. Schwartz caught eight passes for 57 yards in the loss at Georgia, then 10 for 100 in Saturday’s 30-28 win over Arkansas. The latter totals are both career-highs.
And another big day could be in store Saturday against a South Carolina defense allowing 8 yards a pass attempt — Florida's Kadarious Toney, a similarly fast and explosive wide receiver, got loose for 86 yards and a touchdown on six catches in a Week 2 win over the Gamecocks.
“We felt like, after looking at last season, he needs more touches,” Malzahn said of Schwartz. “I think that's a real positive. You can see him. He's really starting to come on.”
Maybe it’s fitting that Schwartz’s career outing came against the Razorbacks. They were the team that really kick-started his season last year. Slowed by a broken hand suffered during fall camp, he caught only five passes for 110 yards through Auburn’s first six games. But after getting an open-date week to heal up, he broke out with six catches for 73 yards and a score in Fayetteville.
He finished the season with 41 catches for 440 yards across 13 games. He’s on pace to catch 70 for more than 650 in a healthy 10-game regular season this year. He already has more games with eight or more receptions in 2020 (two) than he had in 2018 and 2019 combined (one).
Schwartz is being used a little differently. He ran the ball 38 times for 429 yards and seven touchdowns over the first two seasons of his career, but has only two for minus-4 yards so far this season — Morris features fewer wide receiver sweeps in his offense than Malzahn does.
Saturday’s game put his considerable potential in the passing game on full display. Quarterback Bo Nix targeted him with 12 of his 28 pass attempts. Ten of those were either screens or quick passes to the flat, which averaged 6.6 yards.
He caught five passes for 64 yards on one second-half drive alone, which included a 17-yard touchdown that increased the Tigers' lead to 28-17 early in the fourth quarter.
“The linemen came out and they took it and I ran up behind them and just saw the opening to the right,” Schwartz said. “I got a good block from (wide receiver Shedrick Jackson), who kind of walled his man off, and I was pretty much just able to walk into the end zone.”
But maybe most encouraging is how he and Nix were able to connect down the field. The quarterback targeted the wide receiver deep five times at Georgia but wasn’t able to put the ball on him despite him being open on quite a few of those attempts. During the drive that led to his touchdown against Arkansas, though, Nix found Schwartz for 25 yards on a perfectly thrown out-and-up against a zone defense, then for 9 yards on a comeback route down the sideline three plays later to move the chains on third-and-six.
“Flash is always there,” Nix said. “And when he gets the ball, he can make a lot of good things happen for you, and that’s just what we tried to do today.”
Seth Williams was the star against Kentucky, catching six passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. With him at less than 100 percent against Arkansas after playing through rib and knee injuries suffered against Georgia, Schwartz picked up the slack.
Now, it appears Auburn has two go-to wide receivers it can feature going forward.
“I think that each week, we’re going to be able to improve,” Schwartz said. “I think that we can become a more potent offense.”