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No frontrunner in midseason quarterback competition for Auburn

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

San Jose State safety Vincente Miles, Jr. (26) forces Auburn quarterback Sean White (13) to fumble while tackling him during their NCAA college football game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015.
San Jose State safety Vincente Miles, Jr. (26) forces Auburn quarterback Sean White (13) to fumble while tackling him during their NCAA college football game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Albert Cesare

Auburn opened the door for quarterback Jeremy Johnson to regain his starting job over Sean White during the bye week.

With three days until it heads to Lexington for a Thursday night game against Kentucky, the door remains wide-open.

“Both guys are still competing,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “They did it last week, and they did it again today.”

Lashlee was tight lipped about the competition -- declining to reveal how the coaching staff was splitting up the first team reps, or what their timeline is for naming a starter.  

“Coach (Malzahn) will make that call when it’s time,” Lashlee said.

LSU an anomaly

Jeremy Johnson’s worst day at Auburn isn’t being held against him.

When Auburn went on the road to LSU, Johnson visible struggled as his team fell behind by 24 points in the first half, and lost 45-21. Johnson turned the ball over twice, was sacked five times and looked uncomfortable in the pocket.

The performance was one of the main reasons behind his demotion two days later, but isn’t on the coaching staff’s minds this week. 

“It’s like anything else in life; you can have a bad day,” Lashlee said. “He’d be the first to tell you that LSU wasn’t his best day. It wasn’t, but you’d like to think when a guy responds, wants to keep fighting and competing like he has; he hasn’t laid it down. I think that’s the first sign of that there is an opportunity for him to regain confidence, and hopefully perform at the level he is capable of playing at.”

Lashlee said Johnson’s body of work from the first three weeks of the season isn’t being “overanalyzed.”

“We haven’t overanalyzed it,” Lashlee said. “He’s not the first guy (to struggle). I think one person told me Charlie Ward threw eight interceptions in his first couple of games, something crazy like that. He went on to have a great career. It’s the nature of the position. When you’re team is playing good, you get over praised, when you’re not, you’re get criticized.”

Up in the air

The offensive coordinator offered few details about the evaluation process for the quarterback competition.  

Johnson’s confidence level is a topic that coaches continue to bring up, and there is an emphasis on “protecting the football."

Neither quarterback has a stellar track record when it comes to turnovers this season.

In three starts, Johnson threw six interceptions, the most in the NCAA during that span, and lost one of two fumbles. White threw an interception on the first drive against Mississippi State, and put the ball on the ground three times in two starts.

Auburn didn’t lose any White’s fumbles, but it was an issue coach Malzahn brought up in his San Jose State post-game press conference.

Lashlee wouldn’t point to any other specific improvements they are looking for Johnson or White to make.

He does like how both quarterbacks have practiced, and didn’t see a down side to letting the competition continue until later in the week. He referred to the “urgency” a competition creates multiple times Sunday night.

“I think it will make both of them better, regardless of what we do,” Lashlee said.

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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