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Arkansas coach Bret Bielema: Slowing down QB Sean White could be key to silencing resurgent Auburn offense

Auburn quarterback Sean White waits for the snap against LSU Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn quarterback Sean White waits for the snap against LSU Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema didn’t have to watch recent tape of Auburn’s offense to know what quarterback Sean White is a capable of.

Bielema saw White at his best last season when the two SEC West rivals clashed in Fayetteville.

White orchestrated a scoring drive in the final two minutes of regulation to force overtime and was a dropped pass away from securing the Tigers an upset win on the road. His 32 attempts in the game are still a career high a year later.

“We learned a lot about him that day,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said this week. “The way he handled pressure. The way he handled getting hit. He showed a lot of toughness that game and I think he responded very well.”

Bielema’s respect has only grown for the now sophomore who the coach credited as the one of the keys to Auburn’s turnaround on offense.

“White is a kid we recruited or at least I was aware of him, he’s from South Florida, I knew about him and was aware of who he was and what he was,” Bielema said. “I’ve heard Gus talk that I think he is the key to the change. They have settled in on him.”

White has completed 77 percent of his passes the last three weeks for 677 yards with three touchdowns to one interception. According to Bielema, White’s effectiveness has Auburn’s offense “starting to hum.”

“He’s very even-keeled, he has a great demeanor,” Bielema said. “I think he leads SEC in completion percentage and that doesn’t happen by chance. They put him in good position and he makes accurate throws.”

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn added a potential wrinkle for Arkansas’ defnese during the weekly “Tiger Talk” radio show Thursday night when discussing backup quarterback John Franklin III.

"Last week we primarily worked him a lot with the ones too,” Malzahn said. "You could see his role grow in the second half of the season."

Franklin had his best game of the season in a 58-7 win over ULM scoring his first career touchdowns. The junior college transfer broke an 80-yard run through the middle of ULM’s defense on his second snap.

On Auburn’s ensuing drive, Franklin hit freshman Nate Craig-Myers for a 39-yard touchdown down the sideline.

Franklin was a larger presence in Auburn’s game plan before offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee took over the play calling duties. He played one snap in Auburn’s 18-13 win over LSU and didn’t see the field until late in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State.

Malzahn remains intrigued by Franklin’s unique skill set despite the lack of opportunities in recent weeks to get him on the field.

“I don't want to give up our game plan, but you know like I said before he's going to be ready," Malzahn said. "He's getting better, there's no doubt. He presents a different challenge for the defense when he gets in there."

While Malzahn might be looking for the right moment to get Franklin meaningful playing time, White’s success is making it hard to justify rotating Franklin into the game.

"Sean's gotten better every time out," Malzahn said. "Last game he played a very complete game. He's got a lot of confidence. He's practiced well the last two weeks. I know his teammates have a lot of confidence in him. He's getting nothing but better."

Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson is hoping recent hot streak carries over in upcoming key matchups against Mississippi St. and Arkansas.

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