FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, file photo, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn reacts in the second half of an NCAA college football game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La. The Tigers have plenty of issues to overcome if they're going to turn this season
Gerald Herbert, File
September 22, 2015

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) The Auburn Tigers are changing starting quarterbacks, turning from a struggling Jeremy Johnson to redshirt freshman Sean White.

Coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday that White will start Saturday night's game against Mississippi State, but didn't rule out playing Johnson, too. Johnson was billed in the preseason as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate but has thrown six interceptions in three games.

White hasn't played a game for Auburn yet.

''Any time you change quarterbacks, it's not an easy decision,'' Malzahn said. ''Really probably (Tuesday) is when me and coach (Rhett) Lashlee made the decision. We feel like that's best for our offense right now.

''Sean White is a guy that has gotten a lot of reps. He's responded very well in practice and very well in scrimmages. I feel like he needs a shot right now, and we've got a lot of confidence in him.''

The Tigers have fallen out of the rankings after starting at No. 6, losing 45-21 at LSU on Saturday after needing overtime to beat FCS Jacksonville State. They rank 113th in total offense.

The defense also has struggled, and help is not on the way. Auburn will be without one of its best players indefinitely.

Malzahn said defensive end Carl Lawson's hip injury is more serious than was initially believed. Lawson missed the past two games with a right hip injury sustained in the first half of the opener with Louisville. Lawson had four tackles, including two for a loss, a sack and two tackles for a loss in less than a half of play.

He missed last season recovering from knee surgery.

''He's going to be out for an extended period of time,'' Malzahn said. ''I'm not ready to say exactly when that is. We're hopeful that we'll get him back before the season's out.

''Obviously he's an impact player. It's been really tough on him, especially going through last season and having another. He's a great competitor and he's going to do everything in his power to get back on the field.''

For Johnson, it's been a rapid decline for quarterback who thrived off the bench in two seasons as Nick Marshall's backup. He started twice, including last season's opening win over Arkansas.

Johnson has struggled with both accuracy and decision-making since taking over that role fulltime against Louisville to start the season. He also fumbled a snap for a huge loss on Auburn's opening drive against LSU.

''It is a little surprising but at the same time from a coaching standpoint, you have to do each week what you feel like is best for your team and for your offense,'' Malzahn said. ''That's where we're at. We have confidence in him. I'm looking forward to seeing Sean.

''He's a guy that can flat-out throw it and he can run it to. He's got that little air of confidence that quarterback have.

The 6-foot, 200-pound White was rated as one of the top 10 quarterback prospects by several recruiting services out of high school in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 15-of-19 passing for 109 yards in the Tigers' spring game.

Private quarterback coach Ken Mastrole, who has worked with White since the eighth grade, said his pupil has the business-like, calm demeanor to control his emotions in this situation.

''I think Sean has the understanding that at the end of the day, that it's just football,'' Mastrole said. ''It's just a different uniform. It's obviously a different level but it's still football for Sean. I think he's able to compartmentalize things.

''Sean's always had this ability to kind of inspire guys. Just his demeanor, his work ethic, he just makes people's level better.''

Left tackle Shon Coleman said the move wasn't a total surprise but that he has confidence in both quarterbacks.

''Every time I see (White) throw the ball, he's an accurate passer,'' Coleman said. ''He has that `it' factor, like coach Malzahn says. He's a great leader. I think he'll do a great job.''

Malzahn said receivers Jason Smith and Jonathan Wallace, both former quarterbacks, will get some practice time at their old position.

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