Auburn, Ala. -- While the 2015 season had its fair share of ups and downs, the moment Tiger fans can point to as the turning point for quarterback Sean White came late in what eventually was a four-overtime loss at Arkansas.
While he wound up getting injured against the Razorbacks, an injury that would hamper him the rest of the season, White’s play down the stretch that day set the tone for what the sophomore is doing this season
“The one thing Sean did last year that helped him grow a little bit was that two minute drive,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “We’re down by three with 57 seconds to go. We even got a penalty with a 10-second runoff.
“He hits two big passes to get us in range to kick the field goal. In overtime we score a little bit, too. That was kind of when he grew up a little bit in pressure situations, and that’s when you knew that the moment’s not going to be too big for him.”
Since then White has continued to improve his efficacy at the position. In 2016 White currently sits at tenth in the nation in completion percentage (69.7) and 14th in yards per attempt (9.0) as well as QB rating (157.2).
Even more impressive is what he’s done since that quarterback shuffle in the season opener against Clemson. Completing just 10-21 passes against the ACC Tigers that night, White has gone on a tear in the last five games by completing 73.8 percent of his passes (82-111) with five touchdowns and the only interception coming on a dropped pass by Tony Stevens.
However, losing that hard-fought four overtime battle still stings for the Tigers and Lashlee as they head into this year’s matchup with the Razorbacks.
“Give (Arkansas) credit,” said Lashlee, “but we didn’t execute to the levels we needed to win that football game. They had a lot to do with that. We need to redeem ourselves to some degree but it was the same thing with Mississippi State last year. They (beat us) but we didn’t feel any different going to Starkville. We knew it was going to be a great challenge at their place. The things that happened last year really don’t matter this year, but you are human and you think, ‘Hey, they beat us last year.’”
Lashlee noted that White could have played better last season but also felt it would be wrong to neglect the dropped passes that tallied up to eight against the Razorbacks.
“I think it kind of comes with the job description at wideout,” Lashlee remarked when asked about reducing the drops. “We’ve got to catch the ball. They’ve done a good job of really focusing on it. I’d say that back in the summer on their own and through fall camp they’ve been on the jugs machine more than we ever have.
“At the end of the day it wasn’t just drops. It was as a whole (on the offensive struggles). Arkansas, they do a great job of making you execute. If you are off just a hair it’s tough. It’s going to be about who plays the best and who executes the best. Catching the football is part of that.”
White’s greatest improvement so far this year has been in his footwork according to Lashlee.
“His base and his footwork is getting better,” Lashlee pointed out. “I think that’s why his accuracy is improving. He has a tendency to fall off of throws. To some degree that’s a strength because he can make throws in tight windows when he doesn’t have a lot of space in the pocket.
“Sometimes you have to do that as a quarterback, but some easy throws have escaped him at times because he’s a little off balance. He’s really focused on it the last two or three games. I think he’s just playing with really good confidence right now.”
Lashlee also wants to dispel the notion that White is nothing more than a game manager, a term the fourth-year Auburn OC has a disdain for.
“I’ve never been a huge fan of the ‘game manager’ term,” admitted Lashlee. “I want a guy that will go win a game. To be able to win a game you must first be able to manage a game, though. I think when Coach (Gus Malzahn) says that he means he is managing the game well from an efficiency standpoint, completion percentage, accuracy and decision making.
“For the most part he’s doing all the things you need to do to give your team a chance to win. We have to make plays to win the game. I don’t think Coach would say that we want just a game manager. We want a guy that can go out and win a game for us. I think (White) has proven that he has the ability.”