Auburn coach Gus Malzahn kept a close eye on Sean White warming up prior to taking on Mississippi State.
Malzahn was looking for signs the redshirt freshman quarterback was nervous, or as he put it had a “bright-eyed look.”
White’s confident demeanor never faltered going through a series of firsts -- walking through the tunnel, getting knocked down and making a completion.
In reviewing White’s body of work from Saturday, it was clear to Malzahn that the Florida native deserved a second start.
“I felt like Sean White gave the offense a spark,” Malzahn said, at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “Sean will start again this week, I really feel like he’s earned that. If you take away the red zone struggles right there he had, we felt like we got better on the offensive side of the ball.”
Malzahn pointed to four extended drives, 10-plus plays, as evidence of the offense’s improvement over the previous two weeks.
The 13-play, and 15-play drives in the first half were the Tigers’ longest drives this season in terms of time of possession (6:27 and 7:10).
White had Auburn’s offense in a rhythm it hasn’t played with for much of the season. In the 17-9 loss to Mississippi State, the offense had a season-high 25 first downs and its 389 total yards was just shy of the season-high 401 yards it had against Jacksonville State.
“I’ll say this, the positive the other night is that we actually got into some rhythm at times,” Malzahn said. “We didn’t really have a lot of rhythm, the first game we did at times, but the next two we didn’t. Things are starting to clear up. I can definitely see us getting better.”
The praise won’t have White breathing a sigh of relief just yet.
In sidestepping a question about the team’s long term plans at quarterback, Malzahn made it clear White is still going through an audition process.
“We feel like he's going to get better,” Malzahn said. “He's our starting quarterback this week, and we really feel like he's got a chance to be a very good quarterback in our system. We're just going to take it like that.
One way White could put his stamp on the offense is by generating explosive plays. White was responsible for both of Auburn’s plays of more than 20 yards against Mississippi State, but attempted very few passes down field.
On the season, the offense has only nine plays of 20 yards or more.
“One of the Achilles heels this year has been the explosive plays,” Malzahn said. “We haven't had the explosive plays we've had in the past. That's what we need to do as coaches, figure out a way to manufacture those things with our guys and within our system.”
While Malzahn wants to see improvement, he continues to temper the public’s expectations for White, preaching patience as the team adjusts to having the first-year player at the helm.
“When you change quarterbacks, there's going to be some transition,” Malzahn said. “That's kind of been slowing the process down about our identity and strengths and everything. But we do have quite a bit of information now and we do have a plan moving forward. We're hoping that'll come together really quick.”