SEC Football Q&A: Can Gus Malzahn Fix Auburn's Bizarre QB Situation?

We can tie a bow on Week 1, and it was a mixed bag in the SEC.

Alabama and Georgia looked like College Football Playoff contenders, Ole Miss and Kentucky threw away huge leads, Texas A&M survived, and LSU was exposed as a fraud.

What did we learn after the first weekend of the college football season? We answer some of the hottest questions in the first regular-season edition of SEC Q&A of the 2016 season.

There’s no “potential” about it. Auburn’s defense is very good.

When you give up just 399 yards to an offense that’s as potent as Clemson’s, with the only real success coming on Deshaun Watson’s ability to make NFL back-shoulder throws consistently, you’re not only “good,” you’re “elite.” Let’s be honest, you can count the number of quarterbacks in college football who can consistently complete that back-shoulder fade on one hand.

Auburn’s defense looked elite Saturday night on the Plains.

It’s a shame there was no rhyme or reason to head coach Gus Malzahn’s offensive game plan because even a faint identity would likely have flipped the final outcome in favor of the homestanding Tigers.

Yes, Malzahn should settle on a quarterback—he said Tuesday it will be Sean White based on his 140-yard performance and the groove he settled into in the second half—and lead Auburn into division title contention.

But he had nine months to settle on a quarterback and an offensive identity, and yet the game plan Saturday seemed more like the staff throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks rather than a plan that included defined roles for multiple quarterbacks (see: Texas’ quarterback rotation).

So what seems obvious to you, me and the rest of the world might not be so obvious to a coach who didn’t seem to “get it” Saturday night.

With that said, that staff can’t make that same mistake again, can it? I would imagine it can’t—and won’t.

Malzahn knows there’s pressure on him to produce a division title contender this year, and there’s no chance Auburn can do that without clearly defined roles for its multiple quarterback system. Coaches always reserve the right to make snap judgements after games until they see the tape.

If Auburn’s staff doesn’t see it was the biggest problem and that it prevented White, John Franklin III and Jeremy Johnson from getting into grooves against Clemson, then that staff doesn’t deserve to be employed at the FBS level.

I can’t imagine they’re that stubborn, though.

That’s tough because Alabama true freshman Jalen Hurts and Georgia true freshman Jacob Eason both looked really impressive in their respective debuts and seem to be in situations that are similar in terms of offensive philosophy, quarterback responsibility and reliance on the running game.

Based on Week 1, I’m going to lean slightly toward Eason just because I trust Alabama’s defense to be a little bit more reliable than Georgia’s. Because of that, there might be a few more instances where Eason has to be more dynamic in order to keep Georgia in games, which will lead to a more “successful” season for the Lake Stevens, Washington, native.

Nothing against Hurts.

His ability through the air and on the ground were apparent during Saturday night’s romp over Southern California, and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will build off that in the coming weeks.

But Eason looked like something special, particularly on a 51-yard strike to Isaiah McKenzie in tight coverage in the fourth quarter. What’s more important, though, is that North Carolina dropped two safeties deep almost every time Eason trotted onto the field as opposed to the one that was present during most of Greyson Lambert’s snaps.

The need to be more dynamic coupled with the ability of Eason to consistently stretch the field deep will lead him to a better true freshman campaign than Hurts from a statistical standpoint.

Based on Week 1, it wouldn’t surprise me if they got to settle it on the field in the Georgia Dome in the SEC Championship Game in early December.

I’m not overreacting to Florida’s semi-struggle against UMass.

Sure, quarterback Luke Del Rio’s 5.8 yards per passing attempt wasn’t spectacular, and the rushing attack didn’t exactly look elite, but both looked serviceable in the 24-7 win.

The biggest problem in that game was an offensive line that looked completely out of sync, unprepared and nearly as inconsistent as it was last November when injuries and youth plagued the Gators.

“We were on edge a little bit, like I said in protections, which we knew we were going to get line movement, so why be surprised by it?,” head coach Jim McElwain said, according to Chris Harry of “It’s not like you haven’t seen it a couple thousand times in practice or whatever, but we’ve got to clean that piece up and make sure we keep the chief clean.”

Luckily for Florida, this week’s opponent, Kentucky, looked horrible up front in the loss to Southern Mississippi, North Texas doesn’t have the bodies to compete with the Gators, and Tennessee got pushed around by Appalachian State in the trenches Thursday night.

There’s time to fix it, so that’s why I’m not concerned too much with what the Gators showed on opening night.

I do have serious concerns with LSU, because what the 16-14 loss to Wisconsin signaled is that head coach Les Miles dug his heels in and didn’t move off a stale and uncreative offensive philosophy when he could have this offseason, and he can’t now that he has to be in game mode every week.

LSU is an offensive dinosaur in this day and age of offensive football, and it’s too late to make the proper changes now.    

They can for sure because really only one SEC East team looked championship-worthy in Week 1—Georgia.

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs didn’t look like he had progressed at all in the overtime win over Appalachian State, but he didn’t exactly have help up front, either. Tennessee got whipped in the trenches on both sides of the ball in the opener, which felt a lot like the sense of entitlement that goes along with being division title favorites hanging over the program more than a lack of talent.

With Virginia Tech looming, the Vols are going to have to fix that quickly. But they get a couple of extra days to prepare for the Hokies and have a ton of bad film for the coaches to harp on during game week.

Tennessee can fix this.

If the Vols can improve in the trenches, it will help Dobbs be a little more comfortable in the pocket and keep them in the division title hunt. Even if Dobbs doesn’t become star through the air, that multidimensional rushing attack coupled with what should be a much better defense moving forward should be enough to keep them in the mix.


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Odds provided by Odds Shark.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Source: Bleacher Report -SEC Football

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