FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Auburn comes into its top 25 clash with Arkansas riding a three-game winning streak, its longest since October 2014.
The main reason for the No. 21 Tigers’ best run of play in two years is the impressive output of quarterback Sean White. The sophomore has completed 47 of 61 passes for 677 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in the consecutive wins over LSU, Louisiana-Monroe and Mississippi State.
White will look to lead the Tigers to a fourth-straight win against the No. 17 Razorbacks on Saturday (5 p.m. CT, ESPN).
“You can tell that they have confidence in him and I think that you can see what the football team has done since he became the primary guy,” Arkansas defensive backs coach Paul Rhoads said. “He’s very capable of not only throwing to open receivers, but hitting guys that are covered with the appropriate ball whether it be back-shoulder or whatever that may be. This quarterback’s a good player.”
Auburn rotated three quarterbacks — White, John Franklin and Jeremy Johnson — in its season-opening 19-13 loss to Clemson. The next week Tigers coach Gus Malzahn declared White the starter going forward and he’s shown no signs of relinquishing the job.
The recent run of impressive performances by White has coincided with a change in play-calling duties. Following a 29-16 loss to Texas A&M on Sept. 17, Malzahn handed the responsibility of calling plays to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.
“(White) did a great job managing the game again,” said Malzahn following the Tigers’ 38-14 win over Mississippi State two weeks ago. “I think Coach Lashlee did a good job putting him in good situations, too. We’re a run, play-action team and when we’re able to run the football it opens up the pass and I think Sean was very efficient throwing the football and made some very timely throws.”
Lashlee is a familiar name in Northwest Arkansas. He first gained an understanding for the offense he runs in the early 2000s while playing quarterback under Malzahn at Shiloh Christian School in Springdale, Ark., just 10 miles north of the Arkansas campus. He was also a backup quarterback for the Razorbacks from 2002-04.
“They’ve changed the play-caller and I think there was a definite difference in what you saw against Mississippi State in what they were doing,” Rhoads said.
Part of the difference Rhoads has seen is a better balance with the Tigers’ run-first, play-action passing mentality. While White is not the exceptional runner Auburn has had in the past at the position, the Hogs say he is capable of making plays with his legs if the defense doesn’t account for the possibility.
“I believe he is very talented and has good skills,” Arkansas junior safety Josh Liddell said. “He’s not a tremendously gifted runner, but he can run a little bit. He runs enough to keep you honest. He protects the football and doesn’t throw interceptions or fumble the ball. He’s very good.”