Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn announced Tuesday morning, via ESPN.com’s Greg Ostendorf, quarterback Jeremy Johnson will be replaced for the Tigers’ Week 4 tilt vs. Mississippi State in favor of redshirt freshman Sean White.
Gus Malzahn announces that Sean White will start at QB for Auburn this week.
— Greg Ostendorf (@GregO_ESPN) September 22, 2015
Johnson’s benching isn’t a shocker now, given his struggles through Auburn’s inauspicious start. He’s thrown more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (5), completed less than 60 percent of his pass attempts and generally appeared lost.
Though the switch for Sean White isn’t a surprise now, the degree to which he’s struggled is downright startling given the praise for him heading into the season.
Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson was one of the preseason Heisman favorites this year. It looks like Sean White (PS#14) will start this week.
— Phil Steele (@philsteele042) September 22, 2015
Indeed, Bovada tabbed Johnson at 12/1 — the same odds it gave current front-runner and recent Auburn-destroyer, Leonard Fournette.
No, Sean White moving into the starting position isn’t unexpected, and was even kicked around before Saturday’s blowout loss to LSU, as AL.com’s Brandon Marcello reported in the wake of the Jacksonville State debacle.
But this switch is far from a cure-all to what ails to the sputtering Tigers.
As bad as Johnson’s performed through three games, the quarterback isn’t responsible for missed and/or lackadaisical tackling. A change in quarterback won’t remedy the nation’s No. 124-ranked rushing defense, which had no answer for Jacksonville State’s zone-read and got absolutely bullied by Fournette.
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) September 19, 2015
Auburn is suffering through systemic problems that may not be readily solved in the coming weeks, and certainly not in time for Saturday’s contest against Mississippi State.
Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp needs to retool the defense. The offense just regain its lost mojo. These are not overnight fixes, and installing Sean White as starter may not be, either.
Instead, White ascending to first-string might instead be a play for the big-picture and future seasons.
In my first year as a beat reporter, I covered a midseason quarterback switch in which a freshman took over. The move didn’t turn that Arizona team into an immediate winner, but that wasn’t really the intended purpose. The youngster got game reps in meaningful situations, albeit in scenarios that weren’t necessarily high-pressure.
If White is Malzahn’s quarterback for the future, and Auburn faces deeper-seeded problems that preclude it from competing in 2015, why not start working toward 2016?
That’s not to accuse Malzahn of waving the white (pun absolutely intended) flag on a 2-1 start, either. Wide receiver Marcus Davis had high praise for Sean White last month, per the Montgomery Advertiser:
“I definitely think he’s special,” Davis said about Johnson Tuesday after the team’s second practice. “That guy is really intelligent. I believe he can make all the throws on the field. He’s ready (because) he sat and waited and he’s ready to take his opportunity to the next level.”
Perhaps White is the calming influence Auburn needs to get its season on track. But if he’s not now, he may be in the seasons to come.