AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn said John Franklin III provided Auburn a late “shot in the arm” on offense Saturday night.
Considering the 29-16 loss to Texas A&M and the 1-2 record now hanging over his head, Malzahn might want to make that a regular prescription.
Malzahn didn’t rule out a change at quarterback Saturday night in his post-game press conference after Franklin led Auburn on three fourth-quarter drives that covered 159 yards. Auburn only generated 45 yards in the second half when starter Sean White was leading the offense.
“We gave John Franklin a chance and he did a good job moving the football,” Malzahn said. “We will talk about things next week.”
Franklin put up 84 yards of total offense on what amounted to 17 plays credited to his name. He went 4 of 8 passing for 37 yards, completing a pair of passes that resulted in first downs. The JUCO transfer also had four of Auburn’s 10 rushes of 10-plus yards.
But Franklin wasn’t alone in moving the ball on offense during the final three drives of the game. Running back Kamryn Pettway broke a 33-yard run on Franklin’s second snap at quarterback. Kerryon Johnson had a 14-yard gain that led to a touchdown run with 2:59 remaining.
“When John came in, I know they respected him a lot,” Pettway said. “So that opened up a lot for me.”
Franklin also got his opportunities to throw the ball downfield after only attempting one pass in the first two games — a screen pass to Marcus Davis that went for negative yardage against Clemson. He misfired on a gadget play earlier in the game, but he was able to connect on several quick passes in the fourth quarter.
“John, he threw the ball pretty well,” said wide receiver Tony Stevens, who led all Auburn players with 8 catches for 86 yards. “He drove up the field really well and made some good plays with his feet.”
That ability to provide a spark off the bench will, in Malzahn’s words, make the staff at least consider more snaps for Franklin moving forward.
Malzahn said he gave Franklin the chance to see what he could do in Auburn’s offense after more practice as the No. 2 quarterback behind White.
The head coach stressed that Franklin still is learning the scheme but has progressed since White was named the starter during Arkansas State week.
“He created some things for us when the protection broke down and made a couple of good throws,” Malzahn said. “He’s still learning the offense, but I think he gave us a spark … We were just honest with him. That’s all you can be, just honest with him and tell him what you’re going to do.”
According to several Auburn offensive players, White continued to encourage Franklin and the offense after he was benched. White went 18-for-27 passing for 126 yards, but none of his final 10 pass attempts went for first downs.
“Sean was trying to help everyone on the team and help everyone on the offense do their job,” left guard Alex Kozan said. “He was talking to John on things he saw the defense was doing. Sean has a great attitude, and he’s a great teammate.”
While the quarterback switching against Clemson was viewed as an idea gone wrong, Stevens said the offense wasn’t disjointed after Franklin’s substitution in the fourth quarter Saturday night.
And if a more permanent change is in the works, the offense will be ready.
“When John was in, we completed passes,” Stevens said. “If Jeremy was in, we’d still complete passes. They all get reps at practices, so it doesn’t matter who’s our quarterback.”