Auburn football 2016: Malzahn, Tigers seeking better quarterback play

Published 4:56 pm Monday, July 11, 2016

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Auburn coach Gus Malzahn wants to get back to what he does best, focusing on X’s and O’s and trying to rev up his normally fast-paced offense again.

He figured change was necessary after the Tigers lost 11 games in two seasons since playing for a national championship. They entered Southeastern Conference media days Monday getting scant mention as contenders a year after being a trendy pick both in the league and nationally.

They wound up 7-6 thanks largely to poor quarterback play.

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Malzahn is still seeking a starting quarterback but he has called an audible on his own approach.

“After you get down with the season and you’re not as successful as you’d like, you evaluate things,” said Malzahn, who built his reputation on prolific up-tempo offenses. “One thing that really hit me pretty hard is that I’ve got to be more active with the daily X’s and O’s and coaching that goes with that.

“And that’s what I look at as my strength. I’m looking forward to getting back in the middle of things and enjoying the actual coaching on the field.”

The Tigers’ offense fizzled last season, when quarterback Jeremy Johnson quickly lost his starting job after coming in being widely mentioned as a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. The result was two league wins and five SEC games in which Auburn failed to top 21 points.

It wasn’t nearly good enough to remain competitive in the loaded Western Division.

Johnson and Sean White both had iffy performances as starters last season. Junior college transfer John Franklin III brings more of the athleticism that helped Nick Marshall lead the Tigers to the 2013 SEC title in his debut. It appears to be a dead heat.

“I’ve got a very open mind about that,” Malzahn said. “I don’t have a whole lot of preconceived ideas as far as who is going to be our starter. We’re going to open it up like we did in 2013.”

He did settle one question in saying Monday that four players arrested in May on misdemeanor drug charges — starting cornerback Carlton Davis, defensive end Byron Cowart, wide receiver Ryan Davis and cornerback Jeremiah Dinson — have all served their punishment. He said they won’t miss any playing time.

“Those four young men made a mistake, we punished them and they won’t miss any time,” Malzahn said. “That’s behind us. They’re four fine young men, they made a mistake and I’m confident that they won’t make any more.”

He said playing against defending ACC champion Clemson in the opener had “zero” impact on that decision.

For receiver Marcus Davis, Auburn’s primary goal is avoiding a repeat of last season.

“No one wants to go 7-6 again,” Davis said, “and that’s the biggest thing coming into this year.”