Stranger things have happened on the Plains, but minutes before kickoff we received especially peculiar news that John Franklin III would start in place of an “injured” Sean White.
Auburn had quite a few banged-up players that were being closely monitored throughout the week heading into Saturday’s game, but White wasn’t one of them — at least not from what we knew. The sophomore quarterback showed no signs of injury in the Tigers’ Week 8 win at Ole Miss.
Game-time decision: QB John Franklin III will start today instead of Sean White because of an injury.
— Kirk Sampson (@AuburnSID) November 5, 2016
Disbelief and confusion quickly spread over the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd. Sure enough, it was No. 5 leading the first-team offense out on to the field with White — in full uniform — watching on from the sidelines. A moment Auburn football fans have wanted to see at some point, but certainly not today (or this season for that matter) with so much on the line.
Franklin led the Tigers on a scoring drive in the first quarter capped off by a Kerryon Johnson touchdown run. But Franklin struggled with accuracy and ball security the remainder of the half. Those are things that White, the SEC’s leader in passing efficiency, had executed at a high level during Auburn’s five-game winning streak.
— Drunk Aubie (@DrunkAubie) November 5, 2016
Gus Malzahn told the media that White would only be available in the event of an “emergency situation”. With Auburn trailing 13-10 at halftime to a 4-4 Vanderbilt team on its home field, that nightmare scenario was upon them. Fans were becoming increasingly irritable, the offense was ineffective and the Commodores were well on their way to upset city.
The Tigers were desperate to get their starting quarterback back on the field.
I’d consider Auburn’s half-times stats an EMERGENCY situation… unless Sean White’s in jeopardy of complete loss of arm function, PLAY him!
— Holly Stefaniak (@HStefaniak) November 5, 2016
White reportedly didn’t practice all week with a sore shoulder, but came off the bench in the second half looking sharper than ever—heroically finding Darius Slayton in the back corner of the end zone for a 21-yard score in the third quarter to give Auburn the lead for good.
White tosses a 21-yard TD to Darius Slayton. pic.twitter.com/EyygWSyQ8I
— C.J. Holmes (@_ceejay22au) November 5, 2016
Shoulder injury? Sean White got that Winter Soldier robot arm now.
— Dave (@BigDavidMullins) November 5, 2016
White competed 10 of his 13 passes for 106 yards and that score — not huge numbers — but as usual, just enough to get the job done.
Auburn’s running backs may be its most effective offensive weapons, but after this game, it’s clear that White is the most valuable. He isn’t flashy, rarely is, but the threat of his arm alone is enough to keep opposing defenses honest. Without him, it’s a whole lot easier to contain the Tigers. We saw that today.
Even after the game, Gus Malzahn didn’t speak much to the extent of White’s injury. But the Tigers are 7-2, the quarterback appears to be fine and hopefully questions surrounding this situation won’t linger too long regardless of how bizarre.