Sean White has stepped in as Auburn's starting quarterback
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — There was a quarterback change and there were running back injuries and then the departure of one of the leading receivers.
Rhett Lashlee says this season of change for Auburn's offense really started even before the year began.
"I see a lot of different faces, playing a lot different guys," said Auburn's offensive coordinator this week. "We're playing a lot of young guys, or guys who haven't been in roles where they haven't been 'the' guy as much. Now, at this point of the season, that doesn't matter. We're eight games in. That's over."
Auburn heads to Texas A&M for a Saturday night game looking to be on the right side of the stat page, to have an advantage in third-down conversions, to score more touchdowns in the red zone. It's been an uneven trip. Auburn saw two of its running backs, Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson, suffer lingering injuries in the first game, switched to Sean White as its starting quarterback after the third game and said good-bye to receiver Duke Williams after the fifth game.
Riding a fine line, Auburn has lost SEC games to Mississippi State, Arkansas and Ole Miss by eight points each, twice throwing toward the end zone on the game's final play hoping it could force a tie, once failing to recover an onside kick with a minute to play, once losing in four overtimes.
There was more change than met the prognosticators' eye.
"Starting the season you lose eight guys off your offensive roster that either were drafted or playing in the NFL as a free agent. That's a big change," Lashlee said. "Secondly, we're seeing in our league and our division is so good, the margin in between winning and losing is so small.
"Three of our four loses are one-score games. Two of them, on offense, we don't score touchdowns in the red zone. Every other game we pretty much have.
"The other one was a back-and-forth four-overtime deal where it's just 'who's going to make that one play?' That's three games right there that you can point to just two or three handful of plays where we didn't make those plays. The last few years we probably have, more times than not. "
Coach Gus Malzahn saw the frustration in Auburn's 27-19 loss to Ole Miss last week when the Tigers converted just two of their 15 third-down opportunities, when it settled for field goals on their three trips to the red zone.
"As a coach, when things don't work out, we've got to do a better job putting them in position to be successful in the red zone," Malzahn said. "That was really the thing that stood out that we've got to get better at — and I've got to do a better job calling plays down there, too.
"You can always say 'what if?' and all that, but the bottom line is, when you don't score touchdowns, from a coach's standpoint, we've got to help them. And that starts with me."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine