AUBURN, Ala. — After just two weeks of preseason camp, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee knew numerous young players were going to have a chance to contribute this season.
What he couldn’t foresee was how the newcomers would respond when their time came.
“Some guys, they get out there and it doesn’t matter. It’s like they’ve done it their whole life,” Lashlee said in August. “Other guys, even though they’re going to be fine, it’s just, it’s different. We hope those freshmen compete and contribute a lot…we’ve certainly got no problem giving them opportunities.”
Through the first six weeks of the season, several Auburn underclassmen have been granted the chance to step up, and they’ve capitalized on those opportunities in a big way — combining for nearly 90 percent (2,537) of the total offensive yards (2,875).
Freshmen or sophomores have accounted for 16 of 19 total touchdowns through the air or on the ground.
Sophomore quarterback Sean White has improved his completion percentage (69.7 percent) and been able to keep his starting spot. And the contributions haven’t just come on offense.
Freshman Marlon Davidson is believed to be the first true freshman to start on the defensive line in program history (records indicate he’s at least the first since 1985).
Sophomore linebackers Darrell Williams and Deshaun Davis have been critical to improved linebacker play. Redshirt freshman Javaris Davis — one of the only players on the roster who still has braces — has one of the team’s three interceptions on the year.
Coach Gus Malzahn believes this team to be one of the youngest he’s coached. While having an unproven team has presented unique challenges, it’s been advantageous, too.
“That’s good from the standpoint of the future and I think that’s good from the standpoint of having a chance to improve each game,” Malzahn said. “…You know the thing about it, we’re halfway through the season and we’ve got guys that have half a season of experience, so you’ve gotta take the next step and that’s what we’ve been challenging our young guys to do.”
The improvement has been clear on paper since Auburn’s home opener against then No. 2 Clemson and it’s remained steady.
“From Game 1 to our last game you can really see them (younger players) be more confident in themselves and what they’re doing on the field,” senior offensive lineman Alex Kozan said. “And that’s helping us achieve more success on the field for sure.”
In many ways, Auburn’s underclassmen have helped senior leaders more easily dictate the mentality of this year’s team.
“Really, the mindset is just to take every day one at a time,” senior Montravius Adams said. “Everything we do, just take it one at a time.”
The Tigers play No. 17 Arkansas on Saturday, returning to SEC play after a bye week.
“We’re taking it one game at a time and we’re trying to improve and you got to improve when you play good people,” Malzahn said. “We’re playing a good opponent and we’re not taking anything for granted. We’re just trying to move forward.”