Auburn quarterback John Franklin III has patiently waited his turn behind Sean White this season.
Franklin rotated in for White throughout the season on certain packages, helped run out the clock in blowouts and played the traditional role of backup quarterback.
The Sugar Bowl provided Franklin his biggest stage yet to prove he is a legitimate starting option for the program when White went down with an injury in the first half, but Auburn’s backup quarterback was hampered with cramping in his throwing arm in the 35-19 loss.
“It started locking up on me pretty bad and never settled down,” Franklin said. “Every time I was trying to grip the ball my fingers would lock up, so I couldn’t do much.”
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Franklin entered the game with Auburn trailing 14-10 late in the second quarter orchestrating an 11-play, 63-yard drive. He ran the ball one time for 8-yards and completed passes to Eli Stove and Tony Stevens.
Daniel Carlson kicked a 39-yard field goal to make it 14-13 with 41 seconds left in the half.
The cramping become more of an issue after halftime as the offense struggled going three and out on three straight drives. Franklin only attempted two passes in the third quarter.
“It was cramping but we don't know what it is right now because this is the longest it's been happening to me,” Franklin said. “My forearm down to my fingers started locking up on me every time I threw the ball. It got to the point where I couldn't really throw the ball on the sideline.”
Franklin dealt with the issue earlier in his career, but it always quickly dissipated.
“This same situation happen to me quite a bit in high school and a couple times in junior college, but it was never to this extent,” Franklin said. “I could always play through it.”
A hit on Franklin’s forearm on Auburn’s second possession may have contributed to the problem. Franklin ran the ball for 3-yards with the Tigers’ backed up at their end zone facing a third-and-12.
Third string quarterback Jeremy Johnson played the entire fourth quarter.
“They (the coaches) came to me, but the trainers let them know it was pretty bad and I couldn’t do much,” Franklin said. “I told coach I wanted to play, but at the same time I got to do what’s best for the team.”
Franklin said he “didn’t want to be selfish and stay in the game,” but it was tough to admit given the importance of the moment.
“I was real angry,” Franklin said. “I was mad because my opportunity was here and I couldn’t do anything with it. I was feeling real good coming in here at halftime, ready to go (back) in and that made me real frustrated.”
Franklin finished 3 of 7 for 25 yards with five carries for 16 yards.
A stronger performance could have given Franklin a boost going into another quarterback competition this spring when the junior will have to beat out White, true freshman Woody Barrett and high profile Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham.
With the growing list of names at the position, there was speculation Franklin could seek to leave as a graduate transfer this summer, but the quarterback said he is planning on returning.
“I plan on being here for my fifth year, graduating from Auburn and playing my last season here,” Franklin said. “I’m going to talk about it with my family afterwards to make the best decision, but as of now I plan on being here.”
Franklin’s season didn’t have the year he envisioned, but he still views himself as a legitmate contender for the starting job for the fall.
“I feel like now that I got a whole year of experience under my belt, coaches know what type of player I am, I feel like I got a real chance this time,” Franklin said.