Auburn's QB starter remains mystery ahead of Georgia game
Coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday the decision on who starts Saturday against Georgia will come down to more than Sean White's ailing left knee. Jeremy Johnson started for the first time in six weeks in a win at Texas A&M with White sidelined. He might have done well enough to restart the competition or claim the No. 1 spot even if White gets healthy.
''There's a lot more to it than that,'' Malzahn said. ''I think right now me and coach (Rhett) Lashlee will get together. I think the big thing for everyone is we have confidence in both of them, and we should. We feel very good going into this game with our quarterback situation.''
The Tigers gained a season-high 443 yards in total offense behind Johnson, who showed little of the early season troubles with decision-making that led to his benching. He started the season getting mentions as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, so his improved play was a good sign for Auburn.
Malzahn certainly is putting a positive spin on the situation.
''He does have his edge back,'' the coach said of Johnson. ''He does have his confidence back, and we have confidence in him. We've got confidence in Sean, too. It's kind of the best of both worlds right now. It's just a matter of what we decide to do playing-wise. But it's proven that we can when with both of them, which is always a good thing.''
White had played most of the Mississippi game after hurting his knee in the fourth quarter against Arkansas. He has passed for 1,063 yards and just one touchdown in five starts while getting intercepted twice. He's gone 2-3 as a starter.
Johnson is 3-1 as a starter but that includes an overtime win over Jacksonville State and a blowout loss to No. 9 LSU that led to his benching. He completed his first nine passes against Texas A&M and mostly stuck to shorter, safer passes in going 13 of 17 for 132 yards.
''I think it says a lot about him and his character,'' Malzahn said. ''He went through a storm the first part of the season. That's extremely tough on a quarterback.''
It also helps that Jovon Robinson has joined Peyton Barber in the backfield to beef up the running game. Robinson had 27 carries for 159 yards against the Aggies and played well against Ole Miss, too, in his first significant action.
Georgia coach Mark Richt considers Johnson the bigger running threat of the two Auburn quarterbacks, though he didn't have a carry against Texas A&M. He sees differences in their on-field demeanor, too.
''Johnson seems more demonstrative,'' Richt said. ''He's more of a guy that'll just kind of get pumped up emotionally. I don't know if I see the exact same with Sean. Not saying he's not excited about playing, but there's a little different body language there.
''He seems a little bit more controlled in what he's doing. But both of them got plenty of arm to do the things they want to do in the passing game.''
NOTE: Auburn freshman cornerback Jeremiah Dinson is out for the season. Malzahn said he will have surgery on Wednesday after tearing three knee ligaments and dislocating both his knee and shoulder. Dinson had played in all nine games, making 15 tackles.
Charles Odum contributed to this report in Athens, Georgia.