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Michael Niziolek: Auburn fails to change the narrative

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn’s offense was broken last season.

Head coach Gus Malzahn’s patented high tempo run-play action system failed in just about every aspect. The offense was a sluggish shell of its former self two years removed from being the key factor behind a run to the national title game.

On A-Day, the Tigers punted on a golden opportunity to show last year’s struggles are in the past.

Punted many times in fact.

Malzahn saddled the three quarterbacks competing for the starting job with a limited playbook he freely described as “vanilla” resulting in an ineffective performance. The offense was 1 of 22 on third downs and scored only one touchdown in five trips to the red zone.

Auburn’s first-team defense certainly had a say in how the offense performed, but the first-team offense didn’t face the group featuring returning studs like Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and potential star in the making Marlon Davidson.

The game also did little to clear up the team’s three-way quarterback battle.

With Auburn spending much of the spring behind closed doors, the exhibition game was the only opportunity to get a sense of what direction the quarterback battle between Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and John Franklin III is heading.

It’s apparently stuck in neutral.

Franklin didn’t flash a hint of the game-changing speed his coaches and teammates have raved about this season.

White showed the best command of the passing game but turned the ball over in the red zone, while fellow returning starter Johnson showed the same lack of touch on intermediate throws that plagued the quarterback throughout last season.

While Auburn didn’t spend its previous 13 spring practices game planning for A-Day, the shaky look from the first-team offense is worthy of concern given the group’s recent history.

Malzahn pointed to former Heisman winner Cam Newton’s lackluster performance in the annual spring game back in 2010 to put a positive spin on the day.

“If you think back to A-Day and think back to Cam Newton and look at those stats, so, no we don’t really look too much into that,” Malzahn said. “We have a really good idea with that during the spring. We have a full body of spring evaluations … A-Day is a chance to get out there and show what they can do but also have fun with it. To answer your question, I’m not worried about it or concerned that nobody has separated themselves on a day like this.”

While Newton didn’t light the world on fire in his Auburn debut, he played four series going 3 of 8 for 61 yards, the quarterbacks he was competing with for the starting job Neil Caudle and Barrett Trotte combined for more than 350 yards and three touchdowns.

Auburn’s current offense might have needed eight quarters to reach 350 yards passing.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee talked earlier this spring about how the offense wanted to redeem itself for last year. With the uncertainty surrounding the offense and quarterback situation at the end of spring practice as strong as it was when the team walked off the field at the end of last season, the road to redemption has a few twists and turns left.

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