AUBURN, Ala. — Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was proud of the way Sean White played in Auburn’s loss to Mississippi State last season.
Despite being thrown into the starting lineup just four weeks into the Tigers’ schedule, the redshirt freshman played fearlessly. Since the two teams met in 2015, however, White has undergone a bit of a renaissance.
As a sophomore this season, White is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes (compared to just 58.0 percent in 2015), has thrown five touchdown passes and just one interception (one TD and four picks last year).
Lashlee said the main reason for the growth has been time, which has given White the experience and confidence required to adjust to life as an SEC starting quarterback.
“I think you can see he’s comfortable, I think he’s playing well. He can play better. But he’s playing well,” Lashlee said. “He’s giving us a chance to win each week…A year later, he’s gone on the road, he’s won before on the road, he’s played well on the road at Kentucky and Arkansas. So, you’ve got to hope — that’s a tough environment there with those cowbells and everything — but I think he’s very clam and very relaxed now and confident.”
White has remained hungry for competition and opportunities, especially in the SEC.
“The more games, the more experience, the better. Playing in this league is tough, and it makes you a better quarterback. All the experience and all the stuff that happens — you’re going up against the best every week.”
In playing against top-tier talent consistently, White and his coaching staff have started figuring out how to use his strengths to their advantage, and opponents have taken notice.
“(They’ve) been able to execute good decision making to make him an accurate passer, very willing runner,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “It may not be the game breaker that some guys are. Auburn reminds me a lot of how (former MSU quarterback) Dak Prescott was a runner for us. He is going to go get you some tough gritty yards when he needs to and can extend plays and make things happen with his legs when he needs to.”
Shifting back to SEC play after a homecoming win means Auburn can continue finding its rhythm, which entails consistency in the red zone.
Now White knows what to expect and per his coaches’ instruction has taken on more of a “killer instinct” mentality. On Auburn’s first drive last weekend White dove head-first between two ULM defenders, scoring the first of eight touchdowns on the afternoon.
“You get in the red zone, you’ve got to make the play and get in the end zone,” White said. “It’s different once it gets inside the red zone. I think our team and our offense took that and ran with it.”
Another huge factor in this SEC West matchup, where thousands of cowbells will be the backdrop soundtrack, will be the Tigers’ ability to limit self-inflicted penalties.
“That’s going to be a lot harder this weekend playing on the road,” White said. “It’s much tougher with pre-snap penalties especially, so we have to be disciplined and keep doing what we’re doing as far as not committing too many penalties.”
And though White wasn’t tentative in his first start last year, he’s prepared to attack the challenge of a road game head on and this time he hopes to produce a different outcome.
“You go into another team’s environment, it’s a hostile environment. Every environment is in the SEC. It’s a challenge to go in there and play good and play well and steal a win in another team’s territory. And that’s a fun challenge for me…it’s something that motivates you and everybody’s hating you and wants you to lose. It’s kind of like, you know, gets you motivated a little bit I guess you could say.”