Every Monday and Thursday, Plainsman sports staffers Zach Tantillo and Nathan King will analyze an Auburn football player who has a chance to make a sizable impact on the team next season.
Today’s Fortune Teller focuses on Jarrett Stidham, the second-year starter who looks to build on an impressive 2017 campaign.
Most would have pegged Jarrett Stidham as an early entrant to the NFL Draft after proving that he has what it takes to be a quarterback on the next level. But what was the thing that kept Stidham in school for another year?
Made the decision to stay at Auburn. We have unfinished business and I’m excited for what the 2018 season holds! War Eagle, Auburn Family! pic.twitter.com/JVrpqPl8De— Jarrett Stidham (@Jarrett_Stidham) January 6, 2018
“I feel like there is a lot of unfinished business for me,” he said. “This year, we were really close to being where we wanted to be as a team. I didn’t like that taste in my mouth. I want to come back and finish what we started.”
After spending most of the spring watching from the sidelines because of offseason surgery to his non-throwing shoulder, Stidham is back to full strength and ready to finish what he and the Tigers started last year.
In his first season on The Plains, he successfully led the Tigers to an SEC West championship, wins over No. 1 Georgia and Alabama, a Peach Bowl appearance and more importantly, single-handily broke the mold of the typical dual-threat quarterback Auburn needed to be successful under Gus Malzahn.
While doing that, Stidham threw for 3,158 yards, 18 touchdowns and completed an SEC-leading 66.5 percent of his passes. His numbers were good enough to land him second in program history for passing yards in a single season, trailing only Dameyune Craig.
Stidham is always a player to watch for Auburn, if not solely based on how he plays is whether the offense strives or sputters. That is not the norm in a Malzahn offense as the running game is usually the key factor to get the offense going.
In losses last season, Stidham completed only 52.8 percent of passes at 5.8 yards per attempt with Auburn averaging only 15.75 points per game.
In wins, Stidham explodes and the offense along with him. He completed 73.5 percent of his passes at 10 yards per attempt with Auburn averaging 41.1 points per game making it one of the deadliest offenses in the country.
Now with a year under his belt, Stidham has a full grip on the offense and Malzahn has noticed a difference in his approach.
“His command when he’s out there just feels different, which it should. He’s a veteran guy,” Malzahn said. “He’s like a coach on the field now. Last year, he was still learning the offense, and learning Chip [Lindsey] and Chip was learning him. It just feels different. He’s got a very good grip on our offense and what we need to accomplish this summer too.”
Not only does Stidham have a full year’s experience, but all his receivers from last season are returning, minus Will Hastings and Eli Stove (ACL), almost guaranteeing improvement from last year’s performance.
Stidham’s experience and willingness to improve regardless of his limitations have him poised for a better year than last.
But Stidham’s key to success next season will be his ability to perform well away from Jordan-Hare. On the road or at a neutral site, Stidham completed only 59.9 percent of his passes at 7.3 yards an attempt, draining Auburn to a 3-4 record in such games.
He will be put to the test early as Auburn starts its season away from home in Atlanta against Jake Browning and the Washington Huskies. And that is not the worst of it as the Tigers will have to make trips to both Athens and Tuscaloosa this year.
It is safe to say, if Auburn wants to find itself in the College Football Playoff this season, it will have to be led heavily through Jarrett Stidham.