The most enjoyable part of this year's Auburn game for Ole Miss fans will be that it is seemingly impossible for Nick Marshall to be the main source of wailing and gnashing of teeth among the Rebel faithful. Though, to be perfectly frank, I don't know what the rules say about a graduate being kicked out of doing whatever it is he's doing now and transferring back to Auburn to play football (WOULDN'T PUT IT PAST AUBURN TO BE ABLE TO PULL IT OFF).
Marshall gave the Rebel defense all kinds of problems the past two years, combining for 347 yards with two touchdowns through the air and 190 yards with four touchdowns on the ground.
Mercifully, Marshall is gone and Ole Miss gets to deal with a quarterback who is making his fifth career start and doesn't possess the athletic ability of the former Georgia defensive back. Sean White took over for Jeremy Johnson after Auburn's game against LSU and has looked mostly serviceable in three conference games and one exercise in handing off 48 times in a win over San Jose State.
In four outings this season, White has completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 805 yards and 8.3 yards per attempt. He has yet to throw a touchdown pass, but he also hasn't thrown a pick in 97 attempts.
So what does he bring to Auburn's offense? As far as my WHEN I PUT ON THE TAPE eyes can tell, he's got some decent mobility, a nice arm, and doesn't look like he's overwhelmed.
Now, some of that lack of oh-crap-oh-crap-oh-crap panic in his play has to do with how Auburn doesn't ask him to make very aggressive throws. To show you what I'm talking about, let's look at his passing charts from the three conference games he's started. This will give us a better idea of what we'll probably see Auburn ask him do on Saturday morning (UGH, 11 AM).
As the literal X's and O's show you, White kept it short, outside, and STEER CLEAR OF THE MIDDLE against Mississippi State. One would assume most of that is related to it being is first start, as well as State being unable to get a significant lead over Auburn.
Since the game remained close, Auburn wasn't forced to call aggressive throws and kept it conservative. By my count, 21 passes were thrown within 10 yards of the scrimmage line.
Here's a more detailed breakdown of his numbers:
- Behind LOS: 8/8 40 yards
- 0-9 yards: 8/13 72 yards 1 INT
- 10-19 yards: 3/5 54 yards
- 20+ yards: 1/2 22 yards
Against Kentucky, Auburn allowed White to explore the space a little bit more with FIVE throws beyond 20 yards from the line of scrimmage (as opposed to two against Mississippi State). That freedom from Gus is probably the result of Kentucky's defense not being as good as Mississippi State's is on passing downs, and White having at least one start to his name.
Here are the Kentucky numbers broken down:
- Behind LOS: 5/7 55 yards
- 0-9 yards: 7/12 59 yards
- 10-19 yards: 2/3 39 yards
- 20+ yards: 3/5 102 yards
But even with the more liberal passing game (HANG ON NOW, AIN'T NO DANG LIBERALS IN LEE COUNTY, YOU HEAR?), you can still see the theme Auburn is dedicated to with White at quarterback. Short, outside, and very little over the middle where linebackers and safeties tend to live.
Right about here we should be looking at White's passing chart from the Arkansas game. Unfortunately, there have been zero heroes who have uploaded the entire game to the internet dot com.
ESPN's video player functions about as well as Ed Orgeron's Ole Miss offense, and ESPN replays cut possessions in order to fit the entire game in a two-hour window. So we have no chart for the Arkansas game.
However, Auburn did publish a play breakdown summary from the Arkansas game, which allows us to see Auburn's tendencies on downs and distances.
What we can take away from that is Auburn does not much care for passing on first downs or downs in which the yardage to go is short. In fact, of the 45 plays on first down or short-yardage downs, Auburn passed six times. Even when we add the "middle" distance plays, the Tigers threw on just 9 of 54 plays.
So don't expect downfield throws against Ole Miss
As the passing charts and play breakdown summary show, Auburn has gotten slightly less conservative in the passing game in terms of pushing the ball down the field, yet is playing it safe on first downs and short-yardage downs. One would assume that on Saturday, we'll continue to see an orgy of throws behind or just beyond the line of scrimmage, but a slight increase in throws in the 10 to 30-yard range, with maybe a dash of more first-down or short-yardage down passes.
With all this information coursing through our veins, we should expect the aggressive coverage we saw against Texas A&M. By pressing Auburn near the line of scrimmage, Ole Miss can make the short throws Auburn loves more difficult and force them to find out if Sean White can consistently throw it down the field with any degree of accuracy.