Auburn quarterback Sean White had Kerryon Johnson open in the backfield Monday night midway through the second quarter in the Sugar Bowl.
The sophomore swung around to his left to lob a routine swing pass to the sure-handed back.
Oklahoma linebacker Caleb Kelly came unblocked off the edge, but White had just enough time to make the throw to his intended target, or so he thought.
The ball fell harmlessly short at Johnson’s feet.
“I thought I threw it where I wanted to, but it went straight to the ground,” White said after the 35-19 loss. “I was like, something isn’t right.”
White thought he bruised his arm trying to get into the end zone on Auburn’s first possession.
He communicated the injury to the coaching staff in hopes of avoiding a similar situation to the one in Athens when he regretted not being more honest about reggravating the injury to his throwing shoulder in a 13-7 loss to Georgia.
“It just kind of felt like it was a bruise at first,” White said. “Obviously I felt it, but they massaged it and I thought I could keep playing.”
The incompletion to Johnson was the third badly missed attempt of the drive.
“He thought he just pulled something,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He thought he could do it. And obviously, there’s a couple of throws that we kind of questioned and finally got him out and he got it X-rayed.”
White headed to the locker room dreading what was to come. It wasn’t the final diagnosis — a broken forearm — he was worried about, but the inevitable injury-prone label that was sure to come with it.
“That’s part of why I didn’t come out right away, just in general, I just didn’t want to come out ’cause I’m so tired of being hurt,” White said. “I feel like I’ve been hurt too much.”
White suffered a pair of injuries (knee and ankle) last season, forcing him to miss four starts. The recent injury to his throwing shoulder was an issue throughout the final month of the regular season, leaving Auburn without their starter in the Iron Bowl for a second straight year.
The coaching staff put White through a rigorous throwing schedule during Sugar Bowl practices to make sure he was healthy enough to start.
With his arm strength and velocity back to 100 percent, he hoped the New Year’s Six game would be a springboard into a quarterback battle with Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham.
White isn’t sure if the injury will require surgery, but the latest setback leaves the quarterback facing a fresh round of doubts.
“Words can’t really describe it,” White said. “I was really bummed out. You didn’t really believe it. First drive, it’s kind of crazy. Injuries are a part of the game. I’m just going to have to figure out a way to bounce back from it and do whatever I can this offseason to prevent myself from getting injured.”