When I made my SEC Country debut, I shared my thoughts on Auburn’s lengthy quarterback battle, and even when the team announced soon after that it would be starting Sean White in the season opener against Clemson, I stood by my prediction that we would be seeing Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III on the field this year sooner rather than later.
Then the game was played, and after months of speculation Auburn nation still managed to be blindsided by Gus Malzahn’s decision to experiment with all three passers — including running back Kerryon Johnson and fullback Chandler Cox in wildcat packages — in what turned out to be a winnable game where consistency at the position ultimately proved to be the difference.
Reflecting on Auburn’s 19-13 loss to Clemson Saturday night, the logic behind Malzahn’s decision making still puzzles me. White, Johnson and Franklin all need game reps to show what they bring to the offense, but rotating the three at random in a primetime game against an elite team isn’t the right time to make that assessment.
Auburn’s offense would have been much more effective if Malzahn allowed one quarterback to stay in the game long enough to establish a rhythm. Preferably White or Franklin, who seemed to have the most production even though White only completed 10 passes and Franklin — arguably Auburn’s most athletic player — didn’t record a single carry.
Watching those quarterbacks scramble on and off the field with seemingly no purpose or strategy was frustrating to watch. But despite all the confusion offensively, Auburn positioned itself to steal the game with a little under three and a half minutes to play thanks in large part to an outstanding defensive effort.
But moral victories don’t exist in college football. Auburn missed an opportunity to make a statement and separate itself as a contender during an overall disappointing weekend for SEC teams.
The team needs to establish who its offensive playmakers are. Even though Clemson struggled moving the ball at times, it knew exactly who to go to and when — especially in the game’s final moments.
Nice run by Kerryon Johnson https://t.co/KSBvEb7jGb
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) September 4, 2016
Kerryon Johnson and receiver Will Hastings are a few guys who provided a spark against Clemson and should help fill that void moving forward. Auburn is still a run-first team, and Johnson made his case to be the team’s feature back after picking up 94 yards and a touchdown on the ground — impressive considering Auburn’s offensive line was getting abused in the trenches all night long.
Hastings showed off a real feel for the slot and took advantage of a Clemson secondary that featured three new starters. He has a knack for finding open areas in zone coverage (three catches for 29 yards), and I’m looking forward to seeing how much the former onside kick specialist can contribute in the slot this season.