AUBURN, Ala. -- Gus Malzahn has already changed quarterbacks once this season, benching Jeremy Johnson for Sean White after Week 3. Will he do it again as Auburn prepares for a Thursday night road game at Kentucky?
As of Monday, no decision had been made.
“Sean White has done nothing to lose the job,” Malzahn said at his weekly news conference. “He's done a very good job, but we just want the guys to compete. I really feel like Jeremy [Johnson] has done a solid job back in the mix. I think it's been good for both of them. We'll make a call on that later in the week.”
Who will it be? Who should it be? Some believe Auburn is better off sticking with White the rest of the season. But on the other hand, teammates say Johnson has worked even harder since his demotion. It’s a critical game for the Tigers and the quarterback might make all the difference.
The case for Sean White: Has Auburn held White back or is he simply not that good yet? He has all the accolades -- Elite 11 MVP, MVP of the Under Armour All-America Game -- and yet, his first two starts have been underwhelming to say the least.
Against Mississippi State, White went 20-of-28 for 188 yards with no touchdowns and one costly interception down at the goal line. The next week, he attempted only 10 passes, completing six of them, in a win over San Jose State. He’s yet to throw a touchdown, but since his first drive, he’s yet to throw an interception. And after Johnson threw six interceptions in the first three games, doesn’t Auburn want somebody who can take care of the football?
More importantly, if White is the quarterback of the future -- and Malzahn made that clear when he benched Johnson earlier in the season -- then I’m guessing you don’t want to do anything to shake his confidence. Going back to Johnson after White has “done nothing to lose the job,” would likely affect his confidence.
And what’s Auburn playing for at this point? A bowl game? Nobody wants to see a repeat of the 2012 season, but if I’m the coaching staff, I’m already looking ahead to next year. Let White grow as a quarterback. There will be bumps along the way, but the experience he’ll gain will make him better for the long haul.
What better experience is there than a road start in the SEC?
The case for Jeremy Johnson: We’ve seen White for two weeks now. Do we really think he gives Auburn the best chance to win Saturday?
Johnson has already played in an SEC road game. He’s shown he’s at least capable of throwing against an SEC defense. His problem was never a lack of talent or inexperience. It was confidence. Now, none of us know whether or not he's regained that confidence, but his coaches and teammates have spoken highly of him since his demotion.
“Ever since he’s been demoted or what not, he’s had a good attitude,” Auburn wide receiver Melvin Ray said. “He’s been working really hard and looking really good. I could see why there’s a battle between those two now because it could go either way.”
If I’m strictly playing to win Thursday night, I’m going with Johnson. Maybe being benched was the reality check he needed. And let’s be honest, if Johnson stays at No. 2 the rest of the season, he won’t be back next year. That’s OK if the coaches are confident in White. But the fact that there’s a battle at all shows me how much confidence they have in the freshman.
Turning back to Johnson means Malzahn would have to admit he was wrong when he benched his starter in the first place. But Auburn is in danger of missing a bowl game, and the last coach who didn’t play in a bowl game was fired after the season.
Malzahn’s job isn’t in jeopardy yet, but he needs to find a way to salvage this season. Giving Johnson another shot might just be the solution.