There were differing opinions on what Auburn backup quarterback John Franklin III brought to the field Saturday.
Franklin didn’t produce the fireworks in his first career start fans hoped for when the electric junior college athlete signed with the Tigers back in February.
Auburn made a game time decision to keep an injured Sean White on the bench.
Franklin helped put the Tigers up 7-3 over Vanderbilt on the offense’s opening drive. Kamryn Pettway did most of the heavy lifting, but Franklin converted a pair of read-option runs for first downs.
“He gave up a spark right out of the jump,” Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson said.
The field got a lot smaller for Franklin after that.
Without Franklin presenting a credible threat in the passing game, Vanderbilt successfully loaded up against the run.
Auburn went into halftime with 124 total yards offense and averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Franklin had seven carries for 59 yards, but fumbled and only completed two passes for nine yards.
The same offense with Sean White at the helm in October averaged 576 yards per game and 7.6 yards per carry.
Malzahn didn’t spend much time mulling the quarterback situation over at halftime facing a 13-10 deficit.
“Sean said he could go,” Malzahn said. “Rhett (Lashlee) talked to him and he went out there.”
Malzahn tried to make the case Franklin did a credible job of executing the game plan the coaches drew up for him.
“I’m proud of John now,” Malzahn said. “I’m going to say this that was his first start against a very good team and really you take away the fumble he managed the game pretty well. That will help him moving forward having some real game reps, what it feels like the pressure and the way he responded. I thought he did a good job with the zone-reads.”
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason didn’t see the game the same way. Mason thought his team “had a chance to really get after” Auburn with Franklin under center.
“I didn’t know going in the game John Franklin was going to be the starter, but I thought our guys handled it and adapted because when he is in the game it is more wildcat than anything else,” Mason said.
Johnson defended the conservative approach.
“You come out and play the way you can, we’ll do our part and we will all win,” the running back told Franklin. “I feel like that’s what he did. He played inside himself and didn’t try to do too much.”
White’s status for next week’s trip to Georgia is up in the air, but Auburn players remain confident Franklin can lead the team to victory if he gets another start.
“I have just as much confidence in John Franklin III, so we’ll be fine with either one,” Auburn wide receiver Ryan Davis said. “Sean is capable of what John Franklin III is capable of. They just both bring different styles to the table.”