Auburn Football Roundup: Sticking with Sean White, Malzahn Coaching For His Job
By Peter Santo
The Auburn Tigers began the 2016 season with tempered expectations and high hopes. They knew they faced a tough SEC schedule but that they could have a big year if everything were to click. So far, nothing has clicked for the Tigers.
Beginning the season with four straight games at Jordan Hare Stadium, it was paramount that the Tigers start the season at least 3-1 if they hoped to compete for an SEC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
After nearly pulling off another miracle at Jordan Hare against the Clemson Tigers in the season opener, Auburn recovered to put together an excellent showing against a weak Arkansas St club.
There was reason for optimism on the Plains after successfully earning a split in the season’s first two games.
After the three quarterback chaos caused the offense to sputter for most of the season opener, Head Coach Gus Malzahn stuck with Sean White for Weeks Two and Three, and after an excellent showing against Arkansas State, everything fell apart for the Tigers in Week Three against Texas A&M.
Now Texas A&M is a solid ballclub, they came into the game ranked number 17 in the polls, but Auburn was favored, and you expect the Tigers to get the victory in front of their home fans.
Instead, the Tigers were simply outplayed from the word go, as they were handed a 29-16 lost that appeared more lopsided than the score indicates. While he didn’t turn the ball over, Sean White just simply didn’t do enough to lead his team to the win. The defense, which was excellent in the season’s first two games, allowed a simply average quarterback in Trevor Knight to beat them. They also gave up an 89 yard touchdown run that was the dagger in the heart.
Now sitting at 1-2, after losing a game you expect them to win, you would think changes would need to be made should the Tigers still hope to compete in the SEC.
The most obvious candidate for change would be the quarterback position. While White hasn’t turn the ball over, he simply does not have the upside of his backup, John Franklin III. Simply put, playing White at quarterback is playing not to lose.
Franklin is much more athletic, can make plays with his feet, and has an ability to take over the game that White just does not possess. Malzahn says the offense is a work in progress. Auburn’s offense has been a work in progress since Nick Marshall left following the 2014 season. The Tigers are searching for the next Nick Marshall at quarterback, Franklin has the chance to become Nick Marshall, White does not.
Franklin gave the offense a much needed shot in the arm when he was inserted into the game in the second half against Texas A&M. However Malzahn elected to stick with White as his starter for Saturday’s home tilt against LSU and refused to place any blame on his quarterback. “We need to be better around him,” said Malzahn.
A second and much more drastic change would be firing Head Coach Gus Malzahn. Athletic Director Jay Jacobs rewarded Malzahn with a contract extension in June after a mediocre season that saw the Tigers finish 7-6 (2-6 in SEC).
But this is Auburn, we aren’t exactly patient with our head coaches. Gene Chizik was fired less than two years after winning a national title. Tommy Tuberville was forced out with one down year after four-straight Top 15 finishes. Terry Bowden was run out mid-season after a bad start. He had finished Top 25 every year previously, had not had a below .500 season in the conference, and had a winning record against Bama.
While Malzahn’s $9 million buyout could keep Jacobs from making a move, there’s no denying this season has the potential to fall off a cliff and that the A&M game was one the Tigers desperately needed.
The Tigers already have two losses, and they still have road games against number 1 Alabama, number 12 Georgia, and number 23 Ole Miss to come. That’s not to mention they must play number 17 LSU and number 18 Arkansas at home. They must win one of those and sweep the rest of their games, including road trips to Starkville (Mississippi State) and Nashville (Vanderbilt), just to become bowl eligible.
Even if they are able to reach a bowl game this season Malzahn’s seat wouldn’t necessarily get any cooler.
Making changes at head coach and quarterback come with significant risk, but at this point, Auburn has nothing to lose.