With a message of getting better each week, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn thinks his team is finally finding its stride.
“We talked about that at the very first of the season,” Malzahn said. “That was one of our goals -- to be more balanced -- and the last two weeks we’ve done that. We were able to hit some explosive plays in the pass game and really play with tempo, too. I think that is a combination that was really good and we need to continue to build upon those things.”
Since shifting starters on the offensive line two weeks ago in a definitive win over Missouri, Auburn has outscored opponents 100-24. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who struggled in his first two weeks, has completed 83.4 percent of his passes in his last three games.
“That’s really, really high, but we knew he was a very talented quarterback when we recruited him,” Malzahn said.
“He’s still like a freshman as far as game experience is concerned, and so we’ve got to keep that in mind, but I’ve been very impressed with him the last three weeks.”
Stidham leads the SEC with a 72 percent completion percentage, 5.8 percent higher than Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson at No. 2.
In addition to Stidham’s recent success, four wide receivers, Will Hastings, Kyle Davis, Nate Craig-Myers and Darius Slayton, are averaging over 20 yards per reception. The four combine for 28 of Auburn’s 90 total receptions this season.
“More than anything it is emphasis,” Malzahn said. “That is something [Chip Lindsey] has really emphasized. He wants more explosive plays. We have been able to do that the last two weeks and it has changed everything.”
Auburn running backs Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway are also expected to be closer to 100 percent for Auburn’s game against Ole Miss, Malzahn said. He added that Kam Martin, who is second on the team in rushing yards with 210 with an average of 9.1 per carry, will be more involved.
Johnson implied that he was less than 90 percent back to normal health in Auburn’s 49-10 win over Mississippi State while failing to get to full speed. Despite not being full health, he said, the wide receivers counterweighted Auburn’s depleted run game.
“I think we’re coming along nicely,” Johnson said. “I think the biggest improvement in the shortest amount of time has definitely been the receivers in my opinion. We challenged them a lot, especially after the Clemson game, they were heavily challenged and I think they’re finally answering the call.”
In a 6-14 loss to No. 2 Clemson, Auburn had 79 receiving yards. Since then, Auburn is averaging 283.3 per game while outscoring opponents 124-34.
In preview of Auburn’s game against Ole Miss, who lost to No. 1 Alabama 66-3 last week, both Malzahn and Johnson expect the Rebels to return to normality.
“I think everybody that [plays for Auburn] understands that, for some strange reason, when people play us it’s the best game they’ve ever played,” Johnson said.
“Really, I think it will be a good test for us,” Malzahn said. “I know they had a tough game last week. We are expecting their best. Our guys understand that they are talented and we’ve got to be ready to play.