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Michael Niziolek: Moment coming for Auburn QB Sean White

Auburn quarterback Sean White, No. 13, celebrates his team's touchdown against Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016.
Auburn quarterback Sean White, No. 13, celebrates his team's touchdown against Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. AP

Auburn is sitting home at the bye week feeling pretty good about itself.

The Tigers broke through the AP top 25 rankings this week at No. 23 a little more than a year removed from the last time it appeared on the list.

Coach Gus Malzahn’s program was a mainstay in the top 25 for much of his first two seasons on the Plains, but last year’s early loss to LSU sent the team into a tailspin.

Auburn (4-2, 2-1 SEC) avoided a similar downward spiral this year.

It’s a credit to Malzahn that he recognized changes needed to be made following a 1-2 start. He handed the offense over to Rhett Lashlee and the staff made a concentrated effort to let Sean White be Sean White.

“He is getting to a point where he can take charge a little bit more,” Malzahn said of his quarterback in late September. “As coaches we need to give him a little more freedom. That’s part of the plan moving forward too.”

It marked the end of Auburn’s unsuccessful game of musical chairs at the position. The only time John Franklin III has seen game action since the offensive overhaul is with the game well in hand.

With the looming threat of being benched out of the picture, White has been nothing short of sensational. He’s completing 77 percent of his passes during the three-game stretch for more than 225 yards a game while the offense is averaging 38 points per game.

“I think he’s going to get more confidence each week,” Lashlee said. “He’s getting more confident with the guys who are playing around him, too. They’re getting more continuity.”

The moment is coming where Lashlee is going to ask his quarterback — going to need his quarterback — to win a game for Auburn.

While the offense happily relies on its ground game, the team won’t be able to make it through the second half of the season throwing the ball less than 20 times a game every Saturday.

Last year, White came through in the clutch on the road at Kentucky and Arkansas, but a year can be an eternity in college football.

White was robbed of the chance of leading Auburn to a comeback against Texas A&M earlier this season when Malzahn turned to Franklin in the fourth quarter.

It might be a couple more weeks until the team’s fortunes are put on White’s shoulders. It could be when Auburn heads to Oxford to face an Ole Miss team comfortable in a shootout or maybe it will be next month on his first trip to Athens for the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.

The endless scenarios aside, Auburn knows a run up the SEC West standings could come down to White delivering a game-winning performance.

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