Brent Venables focused on Clemson defense, not Auburn QB battle

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is preparing his squad to face any of three possible Auburn quarterbacks in the season opener.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is preparing his squad to face any of three possible Auburn quarterbacks in the season opener. USA TODAY

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn isn’t ready to name a starting quarterback for next Saturday’s season opener with No. 2 Clemson. That’s perfectly fine with Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

“That’s up to them, whether or not they have confidence in their guy,” Venables said earlier this week.

He added that Clemson’s focused on itself, not on Auburn.

“I could (not) care less. It doesn’t matter one bit to us,” he said. “We’re going to prepare and do what we do and adjust it as we go.”

Sophomore Sean White, senior Jeremy Johnson and junior John Franklin III are battling for the starting job.

White started five games a year ago, while Johnson started eight. Franklin III is in his first year at Auburn after transferring from East Mississippi CC.

“We know they’re all pretty good passers. They’re all pretty athletic guys,” Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said. “Sean White’s surprisingly athletic. He likes to run too. They’re different but similar in some aspects. You have to change a little bit but not too much.”

Boulware echoed Venables, saying Clemson’s only worried about what it can control.

“We’re focused on our game plan,” Boulware said. “The quarterback’s either going to run it or throw it. If you dumb it down and narrow it down like that, it makes it pretty simple.”

Venables has studied each of the three Auburn quarterbacks.

He said White and Johnson were solid in 2015, but suffered from bad luck as Auburn struggled to a 7-6 record, including a 2-6 mark in the SEC.

Auburn beat Louisville a year ago, a team that finished 5-3 in the ACC, and suffered close losses to Mississippi State, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Georgia. The Tigers trailed eventual national champion Alabama 19-13 in the fourth quarter of the regular-season finale before the Crimson Tide pulled away.

“They were in virtually every game last year. They had a bunch of dropped balls and very inconsistent receivers. They had their opportunities in several games, including Alabama,” Venables said. “You can be on both sides of that where you just can’t catch a break, and that was the case for them a year ago. They were very close.”

Venables has also watched junior college highlights of Franklin III, and said he reminds him of former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.

Marshall, also a junior college transfer, rushed for 1,866 yards and passed for 4,508 yards in his two seasons at Auburn.

“He’s real fast. He can really fly, take the top off. He doesn’t need much, probably like Nick Marshall,” Venables said of Franklin III. “We’ve taken a look at some of the things they did in ’13 with Nick Marshall in the quarterback run game, but I’m sure he knows how to throw it as well.”