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StatTiger

Trust in opening up the playbook

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With Spring practice one week away from wrapping up, we as fans know very little about the quarterback race other than what has been reported. I think it is safe to say the Auburn coaching staff possess more to digest regarding the quarterback competition than they did before the start of spring ball. There have been scrimmages with live contact with the quarterbacks, which has provided more in-depth information for the coaches to evaluate. The A-Day game will likely be the last scrimmage of spring practice, and I do not see a starter being named after spring practice is completed. Mixed in within the QB competition is the challenge of making sure the best 11 are on the field. This has resulted in the shuffling of multiple players within the depth chart, which compounds the issue of fairly evaluating the quarterbacks. To this point, it appears Malzahn has made the right decision as all four quarterbacks have seen "live" action.

What can we assume?

Coaches rarely divulge much information in press conferences, though Malzahn has hinted Jeremy Johnson has been the most consistent among the four quarterbacks thus far. The fact John Franklin III has gone live two times is vital for the coaches to evaluate his true potential. With only two years as a high school quarterback and one year of junior college, JFIII is very raw at this point in his career. The more the coaches see JFIII perform, the more information they can gather. Some might assume the coaches are giving him every opportunity to be the starter, which I don't believe. I think the coaches are trying to give him as many reps as possible to evaluate him and nothing more. Because Johnson and White have far more experience in the offense, it makes sense to give JFIII more reps in "live" scrimmage.

Sometimes we focus on what the coaches say in press conferences when we should focus on what is not being said. During a previous press conference, Gus Malzahn described John Franklin III as a "wow" player. Malzahn completed his comments by stating Jeremy Johnson and Sean White were capable of making "wow" plays. Though the word, "wow" was utilized in describing all three quarterbacks, Malzahn was clearly hinting to JFIII's natural explosive abilities. Of course, the focus on JFIII being a "wow" player was directed at his potential in the running game. What has not be said by the Auburn coaches, is Franklin's ability to operate the pass-offense. There has been some positive comments about his arm strength but very little in terms of accuracy. Thus far there has been no comments about any of the quarterbacks displaying a command and execution of the offense.

Protecting the quarterback:

After Jeremy Johnson threw six interceptions during his first three starts of 2015, Johnson was benched to give Sean White an opportunity. After White suffered an injury, Johnson made four additional starts and threw only one interception. Though it might appear Johnson had found his groove, the reality was the Auburn coaches limited Johnson in the offense to prevent him from throwing into coverage. During Johnson's first three starts, 37.5% of his pass attempts were within 5-yards of the line of scrimmage. During his last four starts, 54.9% of his pass attempts were within 5-yards of the LOS. This approach limited Johnson's mistakes, but it also crippled the Auburn pass offense in generating explosive plays.

I equate this thought process to the fear of a shark attack at the beach. We all know there are sharks in the ocean, but the chance of being attacked by one is minimal. Imagine being a swimmer aware of sharks being in the waters of the beach you are present. Odds are you won't fear to go into the water unless you witness evidence of an actual shark in the waters at the time you enter. Now imagine being attacked by a shark and surviving the horrifying incident. How reluctant would you be to enter the ocean again after being bitten by a shark? This was the situation Gus Malzahn faced after three games into the 2015 season. The Auburn coaching staff was initially confident in Jeremy Johnson before the season began. After the first two games, when he threw five interceptions, the coaching staff began to place limitations in the playbook in fear of Johnson throwing more picks.

When Johnson returned as the starter later in the season, the game plans were scaled back to protect the starting quarterback. Johnson was allowed to enter shallow waters but exploring further out became a limited option. Good coaches place their personnel in the best possible situations to make plays. This goal includes obtaining the most of the strengths of the players while being mindful of their limitations. This task becomes a fine line to travel and easier said than done. Malzahn and Lashlee wanted to help Johnson limit his mistakes but limited the bite of the offense by doing so. It was almost a "no-win" situation. The trust between the coach and quarterback can be a very delicate entity, and once the trust is lost, it becomes a major challenge in recovering it. Once Sean White was placed into the starting role (Game #4), Malzahn had to be reluctant in allowing White to run the read-option aspect of the offense. Having benched Johnson, keeping White healthy became a primary goal.

Explosive Plays...

From 1992-2015, there have been 31 times an Auburn quarterback to attempted at least 100 pass attempts during an entire season. The average number of pass attempts for a pass play of 15-yards or more is one every 5.6 attempts. Last season Jeremy Johnson had a ratio of 1 every 8.3 attempts, which was 30th among the 31 Auburn quarterbacks. Sean White finished at No. 5 on the list with one every 4.9 attempts. Auburn's lack of big play ability during 2015 was perhaps the greatest downfall of the Auburn offense. Jason Campbell (2004) was No. 1 on the list, followed by Cam Newton (2010), Chris Todd (2009) and Nick Marshall (2014). It should be noted Nick Marshall finished at No. 19 during 2013, which was another prime example of his progression and development as Auburn's quarterback.

From what has been reported this spring, John Franklin III appears to be a gifted runner with an unknown passing ability. Jeremy Johnson and Sean White are likely ahead in the passing aspect but are limited in the running game. I do believe Sean White could be very effective in the read-option but not explosive. Jeremy Johnson has the physical presence to run the QB power but running with the football and wanting to run with the football can be two different things. The goal is to find the most consistent performer, but there are multiple obstacles to overcome to achieve this goal. I outlined some of these issues during my initial paragraph. Last season Auburn finished at No. 17 among the last 25 Auburn pass offenses regarding generating pass plays of 15-yards or more. The lack of an intermediate passing game prevented the Tigers from extending drives.

Naming the 2016 starting quarterback is a significant challenge for the Auburn coaching staff, but building trust will be more difficult. Malzahn has a history of being conservative early on during a season, especially with a brand new starting quarterback. With success, Malzahn will gradually open up the playbook, but the starting quarterback will have to earn it on the field. Jeremy Johnson has the most experience, but he must overcome his mental collapse from 2015. The coaches still have a level of confidence in Johnson but his 2015 performance on the field cannot be filed away. It won't be practical to start Johnson if he is to be handcuffed within the playbook as he was during his last four starts. If the coaches name him as the starter again, they have to allow him to operate the entire offense to obtain the most from the other 10 starters on the field. Of course his stint on the field should be short if Johnson shows early signs of collapsing under pressure.

There is likely a higher trust factor with Sean White at this point, but the coaches could be apprehensive in allowing him to run the football. John Franklin III brings the most dynamics to the run offense but can he consistently extend drives throwing the football? Because there are limitations in what the coaches can accomplish in practice, it will be difficult to allow all four quarterbacks to reach their full potential. Sooner or later Malzahn will have to rely on a certain level of blind faith with whoever is named the starter. You have to be aggressive to a certain extent to create consistency in generating explosive plays. Finding that equilibrium of trust and aggression in play-calling won't be easy, but it must be harnessed to achieve greatness.

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I liken this QB situation to a commander who has access to helicopters, but the enemy has effective air defense. Well, the helicopters don't do you any good if you keep them the ground. The best option is to use them until they get shot down.

Therefore, Sean White should be the starter. He is the best QB in every aspect but one: the odds of him getting injured are higher than Jeremy Johnson. But that's why you have back ups.

Gus needs to play the best eleven guys until they can no longer take the field.

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My hope is that Gus makes it clear to all of them that he hasn't seen someone who he feels is ready to lead the team, so the starting QB is going to be the guy who takes it upon himself to come into Fall practice ready to take the reigns and be the best QB he is capable of being. Hopefully that will be plenty of motivation for all 4 of them to reach the next level by the time Fall practice starts.

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I equate this thought process to the fear of a shark attack at the beach. We all know there are sharks in the ocean, but the chance of being attacked by one is minimal. Imagine being a swimmer aware of sharks being in the waters of the beach you are present. Odds are you won't fear to go into the water unless you witness evidence of an actual shark in the waters at the time you enter. Now imagine being attacked by a shark and surviving the horrifying incident. How reluctant would you be to enter the ocean again after being bitten by a shark? This was the situation Gus Malzahn faced after three games into the 2015 season. The Auburn coaching staff was initially confident in Jeremy Johnson before the season began. After the first two games, when he threw five interceptions, the coaching staff began to place limitations in the playbook in fear of Johnson throwing more picks.

One of the better analogies I've heard. Great post. I think a lot of us wish Tyler Queen was healthy enough this spring to see what he can do.

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You shouid be paid handsomely for your great work, Stat.

My thoughts exactly. Thank your Stat. I read a lot of verbiage on this blog and 80% is hyperbole, however, everything that Stat supplies along with a handful of others is spot on and well thought out. Thank you again, sir.

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Stat,

You mentioned that Malzahn will gradually open up the playbook and that JJ had 6 interceptions in his first 4 games. How does the number of deep passes (I believe the interceptions by JJ were >15-yard attempts), how may attempts >15 yards did JJ have compared to Cam Newton or Nick Marshall in their first starts? Just curious if Malzahn had opened up the playbook to soon on JJ.

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Stat,

You mentioned that Malzahn will gradually open up the playbook and that JJ had 6 interceptions in his first 4 games. How does the number of deep passes (I believe the interceptions by JJ were >15-yard attempts), how may attempts >15 yards did JJ have compared to Cam Newton or Nick Marshall in their first starts? Just curious if Malzahn had opened up the playbook to soon on JJ.

While Stat is crunching numbers to give you an answer, keep in mind the biggest difference between Jeremy and Cam/Nick was that Jeremy had already started 2 games, including one against SEC competition, before taking the full starting role. I think Gus felt more confident with him, because he had seen him perform well in game scenarios already. I don't know if we will ever know, for certain, exactly what happened to Jeremy between those two games and last year, or if they were just a perfect scenario for him to highlight what he was good at and mask his shortcomings.

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I liken this QB situation to a commander who has access to helicopters, but the enemy has effective air defense. Well, the helicopters don't do you any good if you keep them the ground. The best option is to use them until they get shot down.

Therefore, Sean White should be the starter. He is the best QB in every aspect but one: the odds of him getting injured are higher than Jeremy Johnson. But that's why you have back ups.

Gus needs to play the best eleven guys until they can no longer take the field.

?? Not sure I agree. We know he is not the best runner. He has the least ability of all of them in that regard. While he is known for his throwing accuracy, JJ threw for a higher percentage completions and had a higher QB rating last year. So not sure about him being best QB in every aspect.

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Stat,

You mentioned that Malzahn will gradually open up the playbook and that JJ had 6 interceptions in his first 4 games. How does the number of deep passes (I believe the interceptions by JJ were >15-yard attempts), how may attempts >15 yards did JJ have compared to Cam Newton or Nick Marshall in their first starts? Just curious if Malzahn had opened up the playbook to soon on JJ.

33.3% of JJ's passes were beyond 10-yards of the LOS during his first 3 starts in 2015.

53.1% for CAM in 2010

35.7% for Marshall in 2013

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Good info as usual. How Gus figures out the QB situation in 2016 may go a long way in whether we see Gus on the sidelines as HC in 2017, IMO.

wde

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Stat,

You mentioned that Malzahn will gradually open up the playbook and that JJ had 6 interceptions in his first 4 games. How does the number of deep passes (I believe the interceptions by JJ were >15-yard attempts), how may attempts >15 yards did JJ have compared to Cam Newton or Nick Marshall in their first starts? Just curious if Malzahn had opened up the playbook to soon on JJ.

33.3% of JJ's passes were beyond 10-yards of the LOS during his first 3 starts in 2015.

53.1% for CAM in 2010

35.7% for Marshall in 2013

It would be interesting to know if that 33.3% was the plan before the interceptions started rolling in.

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Play all 4 during the 4 quarters the Clemson game

Start with JF3, if he balls leave him in, then Jeremy in the second, go down the line

#boom

I like it. What if they all suck? Edited by thaitopher

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Stat, good info and I agree with all. That said, I do think that Gus was determined to complete the long pass early. I think he had JJ throw to many deep passes (30 yards or more) early on in the first 3 games. I am sure that you can vouch that as the passes get longer the % of interceptions are greater. Might even be able to tell us the distance of JJ's intercepted passes versus SW. You are right though, from the moment that SW cam in the stopped the longer passes and went shorter, higher percentage passes. Now one question was this all just about the QB or as even Gus has acknowledge, was due to protecting the defense ? Sometimes when folks get in a whole their instinct is to dig their selves out, which only gets them deeper. I think a lot of extra digging went on by the coaches and contributed to a lot of the downfall. JMHO, WDE

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Stat,

You mentioned that Malzahn will gradually open up the playbook and that JJ had 6 interceptions in his first 4 games. How does the number of deep passes (I believe the interceptions by JJ were >15-yard attempts), how may attempts >15 yards did JJ have compared to Cam Newton or Nick Marshall in their first starts? Just curious if Malzahn had opened up the playbook to soon on JJ.

33.3% of JJ's passes were beyond 10-yards of the LOS during his first 3 starts in 2015.

53.1% for CAM in 2010

35.7% for Marshall in 2013

So more throws beyond 10-yards for Cam and Nick but fewer interceptions... Interesting

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I liken this QB situation to a commander who has access to helicopters, but the enemy has effective air defense. Well, the helicopters don't do you any good if you keep them the ground. The best option is to use them until they get shot down.

Therefore, Sean White should be the starter. He is the best QB in every aspect but one: the odds of him getting injured are higher than Jeremy Johnson. But that's why you have back ups.

Gus needs to play the best eleven guys until they can no longer take the field.

?? Not sure I agree. We know he is not the best runner. He has the least ability of all of them in that regard. While he is known for his throwing accuracy, JJ threw for a higher percentage completions and had a higher QB rating last year. So not sure about him being best QB in every aspect.

Professor, thanks for the thoughtful reply. If I might continue my military analogy, the Platoon Leader is not supposed to be used as a rifleman. His main function is to direct his fire teams/squads and call for and direct air support or other indirect fire to create a three dimensional assault.

The function of a QB is to lead the team and also to present that third dimension as a passer. Gus Malzahn has seemed to put an inordinate emphasis on a QB's running ability above his passing ability. This hamstrings the offense. It is much more important to have a QB who can pass really well but is an average or below average runner than to have a great running QB who is only an average or below average passer.

The QB can dump off to running backs, fullbacks and tight ends to create almost as much diversity in the running game as he is able to create by simply running it himself. Conversely, by being a limited passer, the defense is able to take advantage of this weakness in a variety of ways.

Jeremy Johnson showed that he was a capable wildcat QB in the red zone where long passes are not required. He has just enough moxie to complete the short throws, and more than enough body size to accomplish short yardage running gains.

But in the open field, Sean White has the accuracy to stretch a defense to the point that it takes some of the pressure off the running backs. I wish Gus would use the tight ends and fullbacks more than he does to further complicate the options for opposing linebackers.

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I liken this QB situation to a commander who has access to helicopters, but the enemy has effective air defense. Well, the helicopters don't do you any good if you keep them the ground. The best option is to use them until they get shot down.

Therefore, Sean White should be the starter. He is the best QB in every aspect but one: the odds of him getting injured are higher than Jeremy Johnson. But that's why you have back ups.

Gus needs to play the best eleven guys until they can no longer take the field.

?? Not sure I agree. We know he is not the best runner. He has the least ability of all of them in that regard. While he is known for his throwing accuracy, JJ threw for a higher percentage completions and had a higher QB rating last year. So not sure about him being best QB in every aspect.

Professor, thanks for the thoughtful reply. If I might continue my military analogy, the Platoon Leader is not supposed to be used as a rifleman. His main function is to direct his fire teams/squads and call for and direct air support or other indirect fire to create a three dimensional assault.

The function of a QB is to lead the team and also to present that third dimension as a passer. Gus Malzahn has seemed to put an inordinate emphasis on a QB's running ability above his passing ability. This hamstrings the offense. It is much more important to have a QB who can pass really well but is an average or below average runner than to have a great running QB who is only an average or below average passer.

The QB can dump off to running backs, fullbacks and tight ends to create almost as much diversity in the running game as he is able to create by simply running it himself. Conversely, by being a limited passer, the defense is able to take advantage of this weakness in a variety of ways.

Jeremy Johnson showed that he was a capable wildcat QB in the red zone where long passes are not required. He has just enough moxie to complete the short throws, and more than enough body size to accomplish short yardage running gains.

But in the open field, Sean White has the accuracy to stretch a defense to the point that it takes some of the pressure off the running backs. I wish Gus would use the tight ends and fullbacks more than he does to further complicate the options for opposing linebackers.

I don't think we should hold our breath for this. I think everyone would like to see Gus do this but he really hasn't done that ever, even hen he has guys good enough to be at the position in the NFL so I don't see why he would start incorporating them into the offense more now.

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I don't think we should hold our breath for this. I think everyone would like to see Gus do this but he really hasn't done that ever, even hen he has guys good enough to be at the position in the NFL so I don't see why he would start incorporating them into the offense more now.

Something to watch for in 2016 is the use of Pettway and Cox in the passing game. At Tulsa, Malzahn utilized Charles Clay in the HB role and he caught 69 passes in 2007 and 38 in 2008. During the 2009 season, Malzahn utilized Mario Fannin and Eric Smith in the HB role and they combined for 59 receptions that season but only 22 the following year.

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I don't think we should hold our breath for this. I think everyone would like to see Gus do this but he really hasn't done that ever, even hen he has guys good enough to be at the position in the NFL so I don't see why he would start incorporating them into the offense more now.

Something to watch for in 2016 is the use of Pettway and Cox in the passing game. At Tulsa, Malzahn utilized Charles Clay in the HB role and he caught 69 passes in 2007 and 38 in 2008. During the 2009 season, Malzahn utilized Mario Fannin and Eric Smith in the HB role and they combined for 59 receptions that season but only 22 the following year.

I guess I should've said at AU recently. Thanks for setting it straight

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I don't think we should hold our breath for this. I think everyone would like to see Gus do this but he really hasn't done that ever, even hen he has guys good enough to be at the position in the NFL so I don't see why he would start incorporating them into the offense more now.

Something to watch for in 2016 is the use of Pettway and Cox in the passing game. At Tulsa, Malzahn utilized Charles Clay in the HB role and he caught 69 passes in 2007 and 38 in 2008. During the 2009 season, Malzahn utilized Mario Fannin and Eric Smith in the HB role and they combined for 59 receptions that season but only 22 the following year.

Agree. If Gus does not use the HB in the passing game and hopefully realize that a good TE can be a great weapon (Lane Kiffen is an excellent example of using a TE so hopefully Gus watched the spuat/Clemson game) this season. Gus needs to open his playbook and earn his O guru label this season.

wde

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