Photo by Jason Caldwell

StatTiger Column: Auburn's Play Calling A Key to Sean White's Production For the 2016 Football Season

In his StatTiger column, Stuart Carter breaks what worked and what didn't work last season when Sean White was playing quarterback for the Tigers.

Sean White (above) is scheduled to start the opener vs. Clemson.

With Sean White being named the starting quarterback to begin the 2016 Auburn football team, it is up to Coach Gus Malzahn to give the redshirt sophomore quarterback the best opportunity to be successful.

Chris Todd, Cam Newton and Nick Marshall benefited from having the offense tailored to their strengths. The same must be accomplished with White for the Auburn offense to reach its full potential.

For this to happen he must be allowed to throw more often when Auburn wants to rather than throwing when Auburn has to. With the Tigers opening the season against Clemson the offense will need to be consistent and efficient, which means White will be called on to make plays. The opportunity for success will be better on first down than third down. 

Some notes on Sean White during the 2015 season:

*As a redshirt freshman he was No. 4 in the Southeastern Conference when it came to throwing for first downs on first down. The league average was 28.9 percent and White finished at 37.8 percent.

*White was No. 4 in the SEC with 9.4 yards per pass attempt on first down. White’s average per attempt was 10.4 yards during his first five career starts.

*White was No. 8 in the Southeastern Conference in converting third downs when throwing the football. He converted 35.3 percent during the 2015 season.

Part of the problem was that White was forced to throw while facing an average distance of 8.3 yards to convert. During the 2015 season nearly 45 percent of his third down situations (passing) were of nine yards or more. Despite being placed in too many third and long situations, White had the third highest pass efficiency rating facing third and ten or longer in the conference. 

*When it came to generating an impact play (15+ yards) on third down, White was No. 2 in the Southeastern Conference with a ratio of 1 every 4.2 pass attempts on third down. The league average during 2015 was one every 5.9 pass attempts.

*Overall, White was No. 5 in the Southeastern Conference on producing a first down on his pass attempts at 35.0 percent.

*Regarding the production of impact plays (15+ yards), White was No. 4 in the Southeastern Conference, producing an impact play during 20.3 percent of his pass attempts.

*Of the 20 quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference who attempted at least 75 passes during 2015, White was dead last in the percentage of pass attempts occurring on first down. Only 25.9 percent of his pass attempts happened on first down. The league average was 38.5 percent.

Last season Auburn ran the ball 80.6 percent of the time on first down with White as the starter. With Jeremy Johnson as the starter Auburn ran the ball 76.6 percent of the time on first down. Becoming predictable on first down normally resulted in White having to convert too many third and long situations. Last season he attempted 37 passes on first down and 51 passes on third down.

Looking at the top three passers in the Southeastern Conference during 2015, Chad Kelly of Ole Miss finished with 205 pass attempts on first down and 86 on third down. Dak Prescott of Mississippi State attempted 220 first down passes to only 100 pass attempts on third down and Brandon Allen of Arkansas threw 127 passes on first down to 87 attempts on third down. Examining the ratio of first down pass attempts to third down, the league ratio was 1.42. White was dead last among 20 Southeastern quarterbacks with a ratio of .73. 

Of Malzahn’s 10 collegiate offenses five attempted more passes on first down than third down and three of those were away from Auburn. Only the 2010 and 2013 Auburn offenses attempted more passes on first down than third down, and that was likely because Cam Newton and Nick Marshall were able to keep Auburn out of obvious passing situations.

As long as White is the starter, the 2016 offense must operate similarly to Malzahn’s Tulsa and Arkansas State offenses. The quarterback is athletic enough to extend the play and to make the occasional play on the edge as a runner. Of his 21 carries last season, six resulted in a gain of ten yards or more. He will certainly be called on to make more plays through the air than on the ground. With this being the case, he needs more opportunities throwing the football on first down.

Last season teams at the FBS level had a pass rating of 139.7 on first down and a rating of 120.6 on third down. Teams across the country completed 61 percent of their passes on first down compared to 53 percent on third down, and interceptions increased by nearly 30 percent on third down compared to first down.

Playing aggressively on first down will make the Auburn offense less predictable and will allow White to play frequently downhill rather than playing uphill the majority of the game. White should let Malzahn open the complete playbook should the entire offense find its groove.

Finding their rhythm will require the Tigers’ offensive line to provide consistent protection and for the wide receivers to deliver when targeted. Avoiding the obvious passing situations will also take the pressure off the offensive line.

The read-option aspect will still be there, especially if Malzahn implements the element of passing as part of the read by the quarterback. Baylor and Oregon have been very effective in this regard. Auburn doesn’t need to pass 35 times per game to field an effective passing game, but White must be placed in optimum situational plays.

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