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A-Day offers few thrills thanks to outstanding defense, vanilla offensive game plan

Auburn wide receiver Marcus Davis catches a pass from Sean White during A-Day at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, April 9, 2016.
Auburn wide receiver Marcus Davis catches a pass from Sean White during A-Day at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, April 9, 2016. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn’s offense was in midseason form at the team’s annual A-Day spring exhibition game Saturday.

Not in a good way.

The format of the spring game was similar to previous years with the roster split up into two teams (Blue and White), but regardless of the quarterback under center neither squad was able to capitalize on early red zone opportunities.

On the Blue Team’s first trip inside the 25-yard line, quarterback Sean White lost possession of the football when he couldn’t corral a bad snap.

The next three trips into the red zone — two for the Blue Team, one for the White — ended with field goals from Daniel Carlson. Carlson closed out the first half going 5 for 5 including a 55-yarder as time expired in the second quarter to put the Blue Team up 12-10.

“It was windy as all get out down there and he was just drilling it,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He’s one of the best kickers in college football and he’s going to be a huge weapon for us.”

Jeremy Johnson orchestrated a scoring drive for the Blue Team to open the second half to pad its lead. Johnson capped off a six-play, 65-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Roc Thomas to score what ended up being the final points of the afternoon to make it 19-10. The White team had limited chances for a comeback thanks to a running clock in the second half.

Malzahn said a combination of factors made for a sloppy offensive effort. The strong showing from Auburn’s defense was at the top of the list.

“I thought our defense was outstanding,” Malzahn said. “I think the one thing that stands out is our depth. I think we got more depth which is great.”

It didn’t help that the quarterbacks competing for Auburn’s starting job were running a slimmed down version of the playbook.

“We decided to rotate all three with the ones and twos equally, sometimes that’s a challenge as far as different groups, but we wanted to see them play and see what they could do,” Malzahn said. “We were pretty vanilla offensively, but that was by design.”

The much-anticipated debut of John Franklin III featured few fireworks. The quarterback went 7 of 11 for 61 yards, but four of the completions didn’t go past the line of scrimmage.

Franklin, a dual threat junior college transfer from East Mississippi Community College, didn’t do anything with his legs. Despite wearing a non-contact orange jersey, Franklin carried the ball three times for three yards.

“I feel like this offensive is suited for my skill set,” Franklin said. “The more and more I do it the more and more my natural ability is going to come out.”

The quarterback’s lone offensive highlight was a 40-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Davis with 14 seconds left in the first half to give the White team a 10-9 lead.

Davis initially appeared well covered on the play by defensive back Javaris Davis, but the receiver cut back towards the field to make the catch inside the 10-yard line and waltzed into the end zone. Davis also had caught White’s longest completion of the day, a 40-yarder in the first quarter.

Much of Auburn’s offensive game plan in the exhibition game fell on the shoulders of the program’s running backs. Walk-on C.J. Tolbert had a game-high 13 carries for 34 yards.

Fullbacks Kamryn Pettway and Chandler Cox, who both played at tailback throughout the spring, split their time at the two positions and both ran for more than 70 yards. Cox had a 71-yard run in the first quarter that ended up as the game’s longest play from scrimmage.

“You can see both of them have a chance to help us,” Malzahn said. “They run north, south, both of them are instinctive, they both played tailback in high school. I think it will give our offense more versatility next year.”

Running back Jovon Robinson captured co-offensive MVP honors with Marcus Davis leading both teams with 83 yards on 10 carries.

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