JEREMY JOHNSON AND JOHN FRANKLIN (PHOTO BY JASON CALDWELL)

Jason Caldwell's Monday Morning QB Column: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly From Auburn's Football Opener

Looking at the good, the bad and the ugly from Auburn's football season opening loss to Clemson.

You Spin Me Right Round

Every year I go into a season not really sure of what to expect in a first game because there are always wrinkles and new personnel that need to work themselves out, but it’s safe to say I wasn’t expecting anything close to what we witnessed from the Auburn Tigers offense on Saturday night.

Could I have expected Auburn to struggle somewhat on offense against a Clemson team still loaded with talent? Absolutely. Did I think the struggles would come because of rotating three different quarterbacks the way the Tigers did on Saturday night? Never in a million years.

Coaches have always used the phrase “if you have two quarterbacks you have none,” but adding a third to the mix for Auburn showed exactly why it’s something rarely done and rarely successful in any offensive scheme, much less the up-tempo Gus Malzahn system.

First off, rotating quarterbacks hurts any chance of getting into a rhythm running the offense, which is vitally important. Secondlyl, putting three different types of players into the game tips off the defense of what is likely to come, something you could see against Clemson.

Maybe the biggest part of the equation when it comes to Auburn’s offense is that the substitution allows the defense to substitute and kills any chance of the hurry-up to actually hurry. That’s been a huge problem the last few years with Auburn because of the substitutions at the wide receiver positions in certain situations, but when you throw a quarterback change in as well the chances of going fast are slim and none.

It wasn’t only the quarterback rotation that stifled the Auburn offense, but once again the resistence to throw on first down until absolutely necessary. In the drives leading up to Clemson’s touchdown that made the score 19-6, Auburn ran the ball on 13 of 15 first down opportunities with one of them likely a pass attempt turned into a quarterback run. Even if you count it as a pass attempt that’s just three in 15 situations, not nearly enough to make the defense respect the threat.

That has been a major problem for Malzahn’s offenses the last two seasons and without a Cam Newton or Nick Marshall to run the ball at quarterback it makes it more important than ever to try to make big plays in the passing game. The best chance to do that for this Auburn team is on first down.

Even if you don’t connect on a great percentage of first down throws, it forces the defense to respect the pass. That will only give you a better chance to run the football with more success the rest of the way so it should be a win-win for the offense.

Moving forward it’s painfully obvious that Auburn needs to settle on one guy to be the quarterback and based on Saturday night that guy should be Sean White. He was on the field for 38 plays against Clemson for 173 yards of offense with Jeremy Johnson’s 19 plays totaling just 30 yards. John Franklin’s nine plays totaled 33 yards.

With his speed Franklin brings something different to the table and keeping him involved is probably a good thing moving forward, especially if you can continue to add to his role, but if both White and Johnson continue to share snaps as well then it’s going to be very tough for his Auburn offense to get the job done on a consistent basis.

 

Another Brick In The Wall

As bad as Auburn’s offense was for much of the time on Saturday night, that was as good as the defense played against maybe the most talented offensive unit in the country. Holding Clemson to just 19 points and keeping the team in the game until the end, Coach Kevin Steele’s group was strong in every area and rarely missed a tackle against a group of slippery Tigers from the ACC.

The most impressive part of the defense was the play of the linebackers, particularly DeShaun Davis and Darrell Williams. To think that both of them were on the team last season when Will Muschamp’s group continued to struggle makes it all the more puzzling as to why they didn’t see any action a year ago.

It was a great first step for the defense in 2016 and the group should only get better with young guys like Javaris Davis, Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown and others continuing to gain valuable experience.

I also have to give fifth-year senior Josh Holsey his due as well. He played really well at cornerback for the Tigers and was one of the better players on the field on opening night. If he can play that way all season it would be a huge boost for the defense.

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