Before Auburn’s season-opening win over Georgia Southern, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn identified two wide receivers he expected to have breakthrough seasons.
Ryan Davis, and Darius Slayton.
“[Davis is] explosive when he has the ball in his hands,” Malzahn said. “Slayton is another guy that is a little bit older. Those two guys need to lead the charge as far as the receiver group.”
Davis leads the team in receiving with 461 yards and has five total touchdowns, including one 62-yard pass to Slayton in Auburn’s 52-20 win at Arkansas.
Prior to Auburn’s 51-14 victory at Missouri, Davis was identified by Malzahn as an emergency quarterback. The head coach noted his work ethic and determination.
“[Davis] has worked extremely hard,” Malzahn said. “He is one of those guys who really wants the ball and he attacks the ball.”
Davis, who had more yards through six games than his entire 2016 season, has become a playmaker on a rolling Tiger offense that is averaging 44 points in SEC play.
In addition to his contribution to an explosive offense, Davis boasts one of college football’s lowest drop rates. His reliability, along with his consistency -- Davis is averaging 9.6 yards per reception, 51.2 yards per game -- has built confidence with quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
Malzahn attributes Davis’ success with experience and, again, his work ethic.
“He is one of the more veteran guys on our receiving corps,” Malzahn said. “He has played a lot of ball and I know our quarterback has a lot of confidence in him.”
Davis and Slayton's production has been a welcome sight for Jarrett Stidham, who lost his primary deep threat target in Kyle Davis earlier in the season. The wideout missed Auburn’s entire 2017 spring practice for “personal reasons” before missing the Tigers’ season opener vs. Georgia Southern this season due to suspension.
"Any time as a head coach a player has to be dismissed, that hurts," Malzahn said. "Every situation is different. We have a lot of great kids on this team and any time that happens it’s another opportunity for someone else. That’s just how I look at it.”
Slayton and Ryan Davis have seized that oppurtunity.
Slayton slid into Kyle Davis' long-ball role. The versatile 6-foot-2, 190-pound receiver was tar-and-feathered by the Auburn fanbase after a disappointing outing against LSU, which featured only one catch and several drops in an upset loss in Death Valley.
The following week at Arkansas, the Norcoss, Georgia native flipped the script, snaring four passes for 146 yards and a touchdown. The score wasn't from his QB1, however. It was from the third quarterback on the roster: Ryan Davis.
Davis faked a reverse, reared back and fired to his fellow receiver for 62 yards. The play showcased experimental and explosive playcalling, a trend lacking tremendously in Auburn's loss to LSU the week prior.
“Me and Darius and the rest of us, we always throw around a football to mess around. But to get an opportunity to do it in a game, it was just exciting,” Davis said after the win over the Razorbacks. “For me, it felt good throwing one."
The hot streak continued in last week's win over Texas A&M. Slayton caught a pair of Stidham's throws, good for 100 yards and a long touchdown again, this one for 53 yards. His performance against the Aggies brought his season yardage to 401 yards, 245 of which have come in the last two games.
The Tigers receivers have a task ahead of them that isn't just tall -- No. 1 Georgia's pass defense has been nearly insurmountable. Teams are passing for an average of only 165 yards per contest, and the Bulldogs have only allowed eight touchdowns through nine games.
Stidham has been exceptional finding his guys in victories, with an average completion percentage of 73 in seven victories. In losses however, against a pair of top 20 passing defenses, the QB struggled to the tune of a 44.4 percent clip, a mark that won't get the job done vs. UGA.