Sean White proving to be a warrior for Auburn under center
Last week, Auburn starting quarterback Sean White was ruled out for his team’s game against Vanderbilt. The sophomore was dealing with an undisclosed injury experienced one week prior against Ole Miss.
Backup John Franklin made his first career start and struggled during the first two quarters. Franklin did rush for 59 yards on 7 attempts but was limited to just 9 yards on 2-of-4 passing as the heavily favored Tigers trailed the Commodores, 13-10, at halftime.
According to White, Auburn coaches kept asking him about his health, to which he continuously replied, “‘Coach, I can go.'”
And go he did. White entered the game in the third quarter and led the Tigers to a 23-16 victory, which helped them stay at No. 9 overall in the College Football Playoff rankings. White completed his first seven passes and threw for 106 yards and a touchdown on 10-of-13 passing. His lone touchdown came on a 21-yard pass to Darius Slayton on Auburn’s first possession of the second half, which gave the Tigers a 17-13 lead.
“I just knew I might be called upon if I was needed,” White told Auburn’s official website after the game. “My team needed me, and I just wanted to come out and give them my best effort and just try to lead them and provide a spark. We ended up winning the game against a really good team.”
What’s even more impressive is that apparently White didn’t throw at all in practice leading up to the game, rather took some reps in warmups and pleaded with his coaches to be put in.
“Sean threw some in warmups and moved around,” head coach Gus Malzahn said. “It was one of those deals where he thought he could go. At halftime, we just made the move. He was ready to go and obviously gave our offense a spark. It looked like our offense. I’m real proud of him. He showed a lot of toughness.”
White’s presence also helped Kamryn Pettway record 123 of his 173 yards in the second half.
“He’s ready for the moment,” running back Kerryon Johnson said after the Ole Miss game. “If you ask him to do something, he’s going to get it done. He might not have to week in and week out, but when we need him to, we know he will.”
It’s obvious that White’s warrior-like play has provided an extra boost to Auburn’s offense. The sophomore has taken his share of hits this season, including the Ole Miss game in which Malzahn said he was “banged up,” which forced him to miss practice reps. Auburn has allowed 16 sacks, which is tied for the fifth-most among SEC teams. But his willingness to play through injuries deserves credit.
But perhaps White is playing with a chip on his shoulder. After all, he was forced to split reps with Franklin and Jeremy Johnson early despite being the most polished passer by far.
In fairness, White wasn’t initially considered as much of an “ideal fit” for Malzahn’s offense as the two dual-threat options were. But he’s proven otherwise with an efficient 1,617 yards, 9 touchdowns and 2 interceptions on 123-of-178 passing, which is good for a 69.1 completion percentage. He’s also been effective as a mobile option with 145 yards and 2 touchdowns on 48 attempts.
But individual statistics are less important than the winning mentality White has provided. The Tigers have won six consecutive games since keeping the sophomore as their undisputed No. 1 quarterback. That’s helped Auburn climb back into national contention after falling short of preseason hype and finishing last in the SEC West in 2015.
White has shown the determination to be a starting quarterback on an elite SEC team through his consistent play and perseverance. That’s helped Auburn make a quick turnaround in 2016 and propel it into the upper-tier of the conference.
White deserves credit for his maturation process since playing as a redshirt freshman in 2015 and for the Tigers’ recent success. He’s been the steady hand that Auburn needed to contend in the toughest division in college football.