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Auburn offense searching for ways to get out of neutral

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn running back Peyton Barber (25) and quarterback Sean White (13) scramble to fall on a fumble during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Auburn, Ala.
Auburn running back Peyton Barber (25) and quarterback Sean White (13) scramble to fall on a fumble during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Auburn, Ala. AP Photo

The first quarter of the college football season hasn’t provided Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee much clarity on his side of the ball.

As defensive coordinator Will Muschamp continues to cycle through personnel to fix a number of glaring concerns, Lashlee is similarly searching for answers for what’s been one of the worst offenses in the SEC.

Auburn made a major move last week replacing Jeremy Johnson at quarterback with Sean White. The redshirt freshman consistently moved the ball against Mississippi St., but failed to lead his team into the end zone. 

It was the first time with Gus Malzahn as head coach the Tigers failed to score an offensive touchdown.

On Wednesday night, Lashlee discussed more tweaks to the game plan, and improving the group’s overall execution, but isn’t planning any significant lineup changes with White starting for a second straight week.

“We've looked at simplifying some things,” Lashlee said. “I think we've done that so far this week. One thing we did not do well at all the first three games was having a tempo. We had better tempo last game, part of that was because we were staying on the field longer. We had almost 80 plays, we had more plays, we had more tempo, what we didn't do was finish drives, so it all goes hand in hand.”

Lashlee continues to field questions about the team’s lack of explosive plays, and getting playmakers like Duke Williams involved in the offense. The Tigers are tied for the third worst in the country with only eight plays over 20 yards.

In both cases, Lashlee says the coaching staff needs to be “more creative.”

“There’s no question we’ve got to make people defend the whole field better than we have been,” Lashlee said.

Where individual players are struggling, the tendency hasn’t been to turn towards the bench. Outside of injuries, Jeremy Johnson is the lone player to earn a demotion from the starting lineup.

The center position is a prime example of the coaching staff’s patience.

Sophomore center Austin Golson struggled the last two weeks, but Lashlee said there were no discussions about replacing him; even temporarily.

“No, no, there’s never been a discussion of changing, but obviously he’s had a tendency at times to go little hot, and high to the right (on the snap),” Lashlee said.  “It’s something we focused heavy on this week.”

Lashlee pointed to pass protection, and first down production as two other key areas going into Auburn’s homecoming game against San Jose State.

After giving up zero sacks in the first two games, the Tigers have given up nine sacks in the last two weeks. White had very little time to throw in the pocket during his debut.

The sacks contributed to the team’s overall futility on first downs.  

Auburn had eight negative plays on first down, and three others go no gain. There were sacks, runs for negative yardage, a fumble, penalties and a pair of incomplete passes.

“We've been in more second-and-10, second-and-15s,” Lashlee said. “The other night (small laugh), we had two penalties. One to start a drive after a sudden-change turnover and the other one in tempo. You can't do that. It's unacceptable. It puts you behind the chains and now you're trying to catch up. And then it puts you, if you're not as good on first down, it puts you in situations. You want to make it third-and-manageable, but you also need explosive plays, so being in first-and-10, we have to be more productive.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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