STARKVILLE, Miss. — Quarterbacks hit grooves, rhythms and then there are those who carve their way through the competition.
Sean White is not a rhythm quarterback. He’s a carver.
The Auburn quarterback has sliced up defenses over the last three weeks unlike any quarterback in the SEC, and it’s the primary reason why Auburn (4-2, 2-1 SEC) enters its bye week on a three-game winning streak for the first time since 2014.
He was accurate again Saturday during a 38-14 victory at Mississippi State, where he drilled receivers across the middle of the field, hit slants, go routes and wheel routes to finish 14 of 18 passing for 204 yards and one touchdown. White, like he has during this winning streak, shrugged off his own success.
“It’s a lot of fun to go out there and play when the offense is working and clicking, and the plays are working,” he said.
White’s blistering pace is something to behold. He has completed 77 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and one interception in the last three games. The Tigers’ offense is also converting 54.8 percent of their third downs, which included struggles in the second half Saturday as coaches decided to nurse a 35-0 lead with only one pass play in the final 30 minutes.
Oh, and White hit that pass, too: a 19-yard slant to Darius Slayton to convert a third-and-long.
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White’s accuracy can be traced back to the decision by Auburn coach Gus Malzahn to hand over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. The Tigers have out-scored opponents 114-34 during that time, and Malzahn said it’s obvious the Tigers look more balanced as well.
“He did a great job managing the game again,” Malzahn said of White. “I think coach Lashlee did a good job putting him in good situations, too. We’re a run, play-action team and when we’re able to run the football it opens up the pass and I think Sean was very efficient throwing the football and made some very timely throws.”
What fans haven’t seen in recent weeks is White pick apart safeties in the middle of the field. MSU (2-3, 1-2) settled into a zone for most of the first half, which opened up slants, drags and more across the middle. White lofted passes over linebackers’ heads, fired bullets on slants and was absolutely staggering as the offense hit its hurry-up, no-huddle rhythm.
White had two miscues Saturday, but only one was White’s fault. He threw an interception targeting Tony Stevens on a route across the middle of the field, but it was Stevens who bobbled the perfectly-placed pass to allow MSU to pick off the ball.
“That’s just one ball,” Stevens told himself. “I’ve got to come back out on the next drive and make up for it — and that’s what I did.”
Stevens did just that with a 36-yard catch down the sideline on a well-placed pass over Stevens’ shoulder to spark the offense and set up the first of four offensive touchdowns in the first half. White’s lone mistake was an over-thrown ball on a pump fake to Stevens. If he hit Stevens in stride, the Tigers would have scored a fifth touchdown in the game.
Like most players, they don’t keep up much with stats, but when alerted of White’s hot streak of completing 77 percent of his passes in the last three games, Stevens smiled and let out an “ooooh.” White entered the weekend leading the SEC in completion percentage and will certainly exit it at No. 1 with a completion rate of 69.7 percent this season.
“That’s pretty impressive,” the senior receiver said. “We all know he can do it. It’s just a matter of him doing it out there and I think he’s proving it.”