AUBURN, Ala. — John Franklin III made his long-awaited first start as Auburn’s quarterback Saturday. It was a brief one.
Sophomore Sean White — coach Gus Malzahn said White didn’t practice all week after suffering an injury — took his usual place in the pocket after the Tigers went into halftime trailing Vanderbilt 13-10. The result was White leading Auburn to a win over the Commodores.
The decision to start Franklin appeared to be made minutes before kickoff. The coaching staff prepared for the switch in the week leading up to the game.
Game-time decision: QB John Franklin III will start today instead of Sean White because of an injury.
— Kirk Sampson (@AuburnSID) November 5, 2016
“(White) was banged up. He was hurt and couldn’t practice, didn’t take one practice snap,” Malzahn said. “So we just built our game plan around John and the first nine and everything that goes with that.”
On Auburn’s first drive of the game, the East Mississippi Community College transfer drove the Tigers down the field. Franklin handed the ball to running back Kamryn Pettway a handful of times and rushed for 28 yards of his own. Sophomore Kerryon Johnson dove into the end zone to end the drive with the game’s first touchdown.
Auburn’s offense quickly became one-dimensional. Franklin rushed for 59 yards on 7 carries (8.4 average), but completed just 2-of-4 passes for a 9 first-half yards.
The coaching staff made the switch at halftime. Auburn fans welcomed White to the field in one of the loudest moments of the day.
White threw five consecutive completions during his first drive, including a 21-yard touchdown pass to Darius Slayton. He finished with 106 passing yards on 10-of-13 passing.
“Well, we knew number 5 (John Franklin III) was a runner,” Vanderbilt defensive back Ryan White said. “And when number 13 (Sean White) comes into the game he’s a thrower, so it made a big difference.”
Malzahn praised Franklin after the 23-16 win.
“I’m proud of John,” Malzahn said. “I will say that was his first start against a really good team, and really you take away the fumble, and he managed the game pretty well.”
Sophomore receiver Ryan Davis felt White’s second-half start gave Auburn much-needed momentum. He said outside of a couple of miscues, Auburn moved the ball well with Franklin.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Sean. I feel like he can make any throw and every play,” Davis said. “I have just as much confidence in John Franklin III also, so we’ll be fine with either one. Sean is capable of what John Franklin III is capable of. They just both bring different styles to the table.”
Malzahn has been unclear about Franklin’s role since fall camp. Does he stay at quarterback or is moving him an option?
Franklin didn’t dazzle in his half as a starter and Malzahn believes the experience will help him.
“I’m proud of him and that will help him moving forward, to have some real game reps, to see what it feels like, the pressure, the way he responded,” Malzahn said. “I thought he did a good job in the zone read, but it’s kind of one of those deals at halftime where we just felt we needed a spark. Sean said he could go. (Offensive coordinator) Rhett (Lashlee) talked to him and he went out there. He’s a tough guy and a great competitor.”