AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn tried to get through its morning against Vanderbilt without it. Gus Malzahn wanted to see if his Tigers could avoid the health risks and hold off on it.
But Auburn desperately needed some life on a drowsy day on the Plains, and Malzahn reached for the 6-foot-tall energy shot named Sean White.
“That just gave us confidence,” sophomore wide receiver Ryan Davis said. “Like, ‘OK, we can do this. We need to wake up.’ … We were sleepwalking. They were playing their game. We had to change that and start playing Auburn football — playing at our pace.”
White started the second half for Auburn after being a late scratch from the starting lineup with an undisclosed injury. He took over for backup John Franklin III and immediately led Auburn on a touchdown drive, giving the Tigers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in a dramatic 23-16 victory.
“(White) was banged up,” Malzahn said. “He was hurt and couldn’t practice. He didn’t take one practice snap, so we just built our game plan around John. At halftime, we just made the move. He was ready to go and obviously gave our offense a spark.”
White completed his first 7 passes, including a 21-yard touchdown to redshirt freshman Darius Slayton. That drive brought the energy back to both Auburn’s offense and its home crowd, which was remarkably quiet for most of a frustrating first half for the Tigers.
“He’s been our starter all year long, so I think when he came back, it got the crowd into it more,” Slayton said. “Once the crowd’s into it more, it gives us energy. We feed off that. We were able to win the game because of it.”
White didn’t speak to reporters after the game, but he did an interview during Auburn’s postgame radio broadcast.
Though the sophomore quarterback didn’t give any details on his injury, he said he was ready from the beginning of the game.
“Pretty much all day I was like, ‘Coach, I can go,’ ” White told Andy Burcham of the Auburn Sports Network. “They didn’t want to have to risk further injury or play through pain or anything like that if we didn’t need to. Coach felt we needed to, and I just went out there and gave it my best. I knew I was ready to go.”
After putting up just 124 yards of offense in the first half, Auburn racked up 262 with White at quarterback. He was 10 for 13 passing for 106 yards, and his arm opened things up for the Tigers’ rushing attack for 156 yards in the second half.
Sean White went 5-for-5 for 54 yards and a touchdown on that drive. Six times more than John Franklin III had in the first half.
— Josh Vitale (@AUBlog) November 5, 2016
Although he didn’t take a single snap during practices leading up to the Vanderbilt game, White had the full confidence of his teammates.
“He’s a competitor. I trust him,” sophomore running back Kerryon Johnson said. “Practice, you know, as long as you get the mental reps, you’re going to be fine. Physically, do whatever you’ve got to do to get right. Mentally, we’re always going to be there. It’s the same offense week to week.”
Earlier this season against Texas A&M, Franklin served as “the spark” for Auburn’s offense after a hard-luck performance from White. The roles reversed in Auburn’s final home game of the SEC schedule.
“I thought (Franklin) 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,” Malzahn said. “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.”
White’s status for Auburn’s upcoming matchup against Georgia is unclear at this time.
But one thing was certain after the second half Saturday — the Auburn offense is more awake when White is leading the way, regardless of time slot.
“I just knew that I might be called upon if I was needed, and my team needed me,” White said. “I just wanted to come out and give it my best effort. Just lead them and try to provide a spark. We ended up winning the game against a really good team. I’m happy we did that and got to 7-2.”