NEW ORLEANS — The Sugar Bowl was supposed to be a chance for Auburn quarterbacks Sean White and John Franklin III to gain confidence and momentum ahead of a position battle with incoming transfer Jarrett Stidham.
Instead, White and Franklin both left New Orleans with forearm injuries in a frustrating 35-19 loss to Oklahoma.
But the two quarterbacks won’t let their setbacks in the Superdome or the arrival of the favored Stidham make them look elsewhere. They both plan on being at Auburn next season, win or lose —which is a huge bonus for the Tigers in 2017.
“I plan on being back,” Franklin said after the Sugar Bowl. “I plan on being here my fifth year and finishing up here.”
Two days before the Sugar Bowl, White said he would be back in Auburn in 2017 and that he would not leave if Stidham or any other quarterback won the job.
“When they bring in people like that, they are going to try to make the football team better that’s there job as coaches,” White said. “They are going to bring in a quarterback for competition and the best man will win. Jarrett seems like a great kid and a good player. I’m excited to welcome him into the family.”
White’s bad break
On Monday night, White made his return from an AC joint sprain to his throwing shoulder that kept him out of Auburn’s final two regular-season games. A sophomore, White hoped a good performance against Oklahoma would get him ready to compete with Stidham.
But late in the game’s first drive — one in which Auburn marched downfield for a quick touchdown — White was hit on his right forearm on a scramble. Adrenaline made him think it was a bruise. X-rays at halftime showed his arm was broken.
“I just got my shoulder back feeling OK, and I was just excited to come out and play for all my teammates,” White said after the Sugar Bowl. “Just to have that happen was a real bummer. It’s part of the game. You just have to deal with it.”
Sean White suffered broken forearm, and John Franklin III dealt with arm injury. 'Tough night at the quarterback position,' said Gus Malzahn
— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) January 3, 2017
White’s broken forearm might mean Auburn will wait before having a full-scale quarterback competition. His specific recovery time is unknown, but broken forearms can take 6 to 10 weeks to heal. Auburn will most likely start spring practice in early March.
The sophomore quarterback said his main goal is recovering and staying injury-free for Auburn in 2017. White has now suffered four major injuries in his last two years.
“We have a lot to build on,” White said. “I have to focus on getting healthy and focus on staying healthy, whatever it takes. If that’s working harder in the weight room and doing extra stretches, I have to do whatever it takes to stay healthy for next year.”
Franklin’s odd injury
As for Franklin, the JUCO transfer said he didn’t feel like the Sugar Bowl was necessarily an audition for him. But the Tigers ran a play for him before White left the game with his injury, and they trusted him to play ahead of Jeremy Johnson, who started in place of White against Alabama A&M and Alabama.
But Franklin left the game in the fourth quarter for Auburn after a hit caused his forearm and hand to, in his words, “lock up.”
“I got hit in the first two series of the game, but the cramping didn’t start until halftime,” Franklin said. “That’s when it really got bad. It was just to a point to when I was throwing, it was locking up. I didn’t want to sabotage the team. They full locked, fingers crooked.”
Franklin left the game, but he has no plans to leave the Auburn program — or the quarterback position.
He said Monday night that Auburn coaches hadn’t discussed changing his position for the 2017 season. Franklin is set to graduate in the upcoming summer semester. The run-first quarterback said what he went through in 2016 will lead to bigger things in 2017.
“I think the coaches got a lot of trust in me now,” Franklin said. “I have this experience, and I feel comfortable. … As a competitor, I want more. I’m not going to lie. I want more. I feel like this year’s experience in the SEC, I’ll be able to get more touches and more opportunities to play next year.”
Competition in ’17
Franklin and White will enter their second consecutive offseason quarterback battle, along with true freshman Woody Barrett and redshirt freshman Tyler Queen. Auburn also has a commitment from 3-star dual-threat quarterback prospect Malik Willis, who will enroll early with Stidham.
“Competition brings out the best in everybody,” Franklin said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great battle. The best man is going to play. That’s up to the coaches and them. But I’m just going to do my part and play the way I know how to play and leave the rest up to them.”
Added depth and greater competition will be crucial for Auburn, which couldn’t move the ball effectively after White’s initial shoulder injury.
White and Franklin’s commitments to stay with the program even if they don’t win the starting job could be even more important. Stidham had a season-ending injury in 2015 at Baylor.
Any Auburn QB could change his mind and leave before the 2017 season. But each one saw firsthand this season the importance of having multiple trustworthy options at the position.
“Nobody expected Sean getting hurt in that spot and breaking his forearm,” Franklin said. “The next man has to be up, and that’s at every position. When the coaches call on you, you have to make it happen.”