AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn said he tried to throw a lot at No. 2 Clemson in Auburn’s season opener. More specifically, he threw three quarterbacks out onto the field.
The plan didn’t work, and now the Auburn head coach is going with a much more conventional approach under center.
Malzahn said Tuesday that Sean White will be the starting quarterback for Auburn’s Week 2 matchup against Arkansas State. JUCO transfer John Franklin III will take reps as the second-team quarterback.
“Offensively, our plan going in was to be aggressive (against Clemson),” Malzahn said. “Our plan was to play all three quarterbacks. We thought it would be successful. Obviously it wasn’t.”
Following Saturday’s game, Malzahn left the door open to continue playing all three quarterbacks. But after reviewing the film, he admitted the plan backfired.
“We weren’t as successful as I thought we would be with it, but that was the plan,” Malzahn said. “A little unknown right there, throwing a lot at the opponent. We’re moving forward with Sean White and bringing along John Franklin.”
White took 37 of Auburn’s 71 official snaps in the 19-13 loss against Clemson, completing 10 of his 21 passes for 140 yards and an interception. The sophomore starter had five of Auburn’s six passing plays for 15 or more yards.
“(White) can throw the ball downfield,” Malzahn said. “He bought himself a little time on a couple of those, especially the one where we got the pass-interference call. He did an outstanding job of buying himself some time, took a big lick, and he’s got a good control of our offense, too.”
Franklin had one passing attempt, and seven of his eight snaps came in Wildcat or specialized pistol formations.
But Malzahn made it clear Tuesday that Franklin is not going to be just a change-of-pace rushing threat moving forward. He’s now the clear-cut second-string quarterback on the Plains behind White.
“We’re bringing John along with the offense, so he’ll get the No. 2 reps in practice,” Malzahn said.
Franklin didn’t record a carry for the Tigers last Saturday night, but his presence opened things up for a ground game that lacked explosiveness behind a struggling offensive line. First-team running back Kerryon Johnson had several of his longest carries of the night on Franklin handoffs.
“I thought when (Franklin) was in there we moved the ball pretty well,” Malzahn said. “That was his first time to be out there and, you know, we thought he handled himself pretty well for the first time being out there … It looked like, obviously, the ends played a little bit different (when Franklin entered the game).”
The new plan leaves out senior Jeremy Johnson, who took 20 snaps Saturday night and went 4 for 6 passing for 38 yards and an interception. Johnson “will be ready if called upon” in games, Malzahn said.
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Johnson subbed in for White several times against Clemson in red-zone situations, which the Tigers did to some success in their Birmingham Bowl win last season vs. Memphis. But Johnson turned the ball over twice in Clemson territory in the third quarter and didn’t take another snap.
“There were a few protection breakdowns, there was a few holes we thought would be a little cleaner to run through that weren’t as clean as we thought,” Malzahn said.
When asked if Johnson could still see work in the red zone this season, Malzahn reiterated White will be the starter with Franklin as the No. 2 moving forward. Now the Auburn head coach will look for the simplified plan to lead to greater offensive success Saturday against Arkansas State.
“You know, what you do is you put a plan together, and that was our plan,” Malzahn said. “Like I said, obviously it wasn’t successful like I thought it would be. So we’re going to move forward with Sean White and bring along John Franklin.”
Justin Ferguson is the Auburn beat writer for SEC Country. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.