AUBURN, Ala. — It wasn’t surprising when Sean White stepped onto the field as Auburn’s starting quarterback Saturday night. That was the plan.
Then came Auburn’s second drive of the game against No. 2 Clemson. John Franklin III made his first appearance. That substitution was followed by another one when Jeremy Johnson stepped in at quarterback on Auburn’s third drive.
As the unpredictable rotation continued throughout Auburn’s 19-13 loss to Clemson, Malzahn’s plan to incorporate all three quarterbacks into the game plan slowly was revealed.
“We went into this thing knowing we were going to play all three,” Malzahn said. “All three had packages and that was our plan and that’s what we went with. Times it worked well, at times we struggled, but a lot of it was (in the) first half (Clemson) did some unique things they hadn’t done a lot, so it took us a little while to get a feel for what they were doing.”
White was named the starting quarterback just more than one week from Saturday’s opener. When he made that announcement, Malzahn said he had “three guys that can run our offense but Sean White’s the first one that will be out there” and that “he’s in a good spot to lead this team.”
Though Auburn’s offensive approach bewildered the 87,451 fans inside Jordan-Hare Stadium (and plenty of people outside too), the three QBs didn’t appear flustered or rushed when subbing between downs. It was as if they had experience with this revolving-door style of play.
“They knew exactly what to expect,” Malzahn said. “Certain quarterbacks are better at certain plays and you want to call certain plays, and we’ve been practicing that way for a while. Our guys knew what to expect and that was the plan.”
After emphasizing a return to a fast-paced style this offseason, Malzahn’s offense was slow and at times stagnant. It became difficult to tell which quarterback was best suited for a particular offensive set.
The trio combined to complete 15-of-30 passes for 175 yards passing with White and Johnson both throwing interceptions.
Not all Auburn players were aware of Malzahn’s method handling the quarterbacks.
Montravius Adams (one of the team’s captains Saturday) admitted that he had no idea what was going on at quarterback. Senior Josh Holsey confessed the same thing.
“He talked about Sean and Sean was our guy,” sophomore running back Chandler Cox said. “He was named starter for a reason and I mean, of course, there’s certain stuff that maybe John or Jeremy do better than Sean and maybe that’s why, but I trust Coach Malzahn’s planning and thinking because you know he’s a good man and he’s smart with offenses and he has a reason for everything.”
Malzahn intends to follow his plan of featuring all three quarterbacks, but he continues calling White the starter.
“That’s the No. 1 quarterback out there first,” Malzahn said. “But we played all three. We may continue to do that. We’ll see how each game goes and we’ll see how everything turns out.”
White was the most productive in the overall ineffective method, throwing for 140 yards (45 came on the final possession).
Still, Malzahn said his system will stay in place, leaving teammates to support the quarterback — no matter who it might be at any given moment.
“I think it is important to rally around him and any quarterback who’s in there,” Cox said. “We need to trust each other and no matter, I trust Jeremy, I trust John. And whoever is in the game, we need to rally around him and give him the confidence to carry this team, to get on their back and have them carry us. So no matter who the guy is I think it’s important to rally around whoever is in the game.”