BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The following is a commentary blog from WBRC FOX6 Sports Director Rick Karle:
It was the announcement heard around the Auburn nation on Tuesday morning: A businesslike Gus Malzahn stood at the podium at his game-week news conference and announced that he is benching quarterback Jeremy Johnson. Yes, that Jeremy Johnson, the superb athlete who was often connected to the words "Heisman candidate" during the summer. That Jeremy Johnson, the young man who stands 11th in the SEC in passing with 5 TD passes and 6 interceptions thrown. That Jeremy Johnson, who showed signs of life in the second half of the LSU game and has now passed for nearly 500 yards, completed 60 percent of his passes and owns a quarterback rating of 121.2.
The new starting quarterback for the Tigers? Redshirt freshman Sean White, a young man who has yet to take a college game snap, a kid who doesn't exactly have the term "read option" written across his forehead. Still, Malzahn was upbeat on Tuesday, saying, "I feel like Sean needs a shot right now. He's our starting quarterback going into this game. We'll get behind him and I know his teammates will also. He's a talented young guy. We're excited to see what he can do." Auburn fans are also excited to see what White can do, as a talented Miss State team comes a callin' on Saturday night. Who is Sean White, and can he handle the pressures of SEC football?
Sean White is a redshirt freshman from Boca Raton, Florida, a kid who has a strong arm and a strong will. While he has yet to see action in a college football game, White was a highly recruited blue chipper coming out of high school as 247Sports had him ranked the nation's #6 prep quarterback. White also boasts of being named the MVP of both the Under Armour Game and the Elite 11 Football Camp. Does the young man show promise? Coach Malzahn thinks so, saying, "This isn't an emotional decision. You do what you feel is best for your team. We expect to do well as he is a talented quarterback." And how will Malzahn and OC Rhett Lashlee script White's debut this weekend? Says Malzahn, "There's always a fine line with that, a guy that hasn't played, and he's playing his first game, but the fact that he has gotten a whole lot of reps in the past, we'll see how that goes."
So then, is this a desperation move by Malzahn or the right move, and will the coaching brain trust be forced to change the offense to suit White's talents? Coach Gus certainly has no issue with the timing of the change. Malzahn harkens back to the 2013 season when the Tigers had just been hammered at LSU. The players regrouped and went unbeaten until losing to FSU in the national championship game. Says the coach, "The feeling around here is exactly what we went through in 2013. Championship teams can make changes and play like you'd expect. Leaders need to emerge."
What will the Auburn offense look like this weekend? Says Malzahn, "I think we can run the football, but we need to be more consistent. In the passing game, we've got to do what we can do." That doesn't sound like an overly confident coach, and for good reason. In addition to White's lack of playing time, the Auburn running attack is going backwards, witness the following rushing yards per game over the last three seasons:
2013: 328 Yards/Game
2014: 225 Yards/Game
2015: 171 Yards/Game
Yes, we're only tree games into the season, but the view from where I sit is that the Auburn offense needs more than simply a new quarterback. Still, Gus Malzahn knows that he needed to make a change, rationalizing that it may be just what the team needs heading into SEC play. Is Malzahn's move one of desperation move or the right move? Check back with me after Saturday night's game.