Jarrett Stidham, a transfer quarterback two years removed from playing in the Big 12 for the Baylor Bears, was expected to be the solution to Malzahn’s long-standing issues of quarterback development. Bringing in Arizona State offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey with Stidham seemed like a marriage that would work wonders for the offensive side of the ball.
At Baylor University, Stidham replaced starting QB Seth Russell in the 2015 season after Russell sustained an injury. Stidham stole the show, essentially holding a coming out party every week. When Russell returned, fans across the country knew that Stidham wouldn’t be sitting on the bench for long.
That was all before the Baylor football program imploded, forcing multiple players, including Stidham and Auburn runningback Kam Martin, to leave the university in search of a normal college playing experience.
Stidham elected to take a year off, keeping his game polished while attending McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. The ex-Baylor Bear practiced with former and current Bears at D1Sports, an athletic training complex five miles from his former university.
Weekly text messages to former head coach Art Briles kept the Texan tethered to his old life, but his master plan and eccentric work ethic propelled him forward to his next goal: to enroll at a Division I program in January of the following year.
To achieve this, Stidham completed an associate’s degree at McLennan and became eligible to rediscover his past life.
The Florida Gators and the Auburn Tigers became the final choices for the No. 1 JUCO quarterback. On Dec. 10, 2016, before Auburn was to face Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, Stidham announced his verbal commitment to the Tigers.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
“These last six months have been crazy and the craziness is finally over,” Stidham said in a tweet. “Time to start my next chapter at Auburn University! WAR EAGLE!”
Immediately, the hype began to swell for next season’s Tigers. Lindsey was brought in, and Stidham looked great in spring camp.
Auburn’s annual spring game, known as “A-Day” on The Plains, furthered the excitement for Stidham and the offense, as the gunslinger completed 16-of-20 passes for 267 yards.
The 2017 season opener against Georgia Southern left little to be desired, as Auburn dominated the Eagles, 41-7. Stidham looked rusty as expected, but showed flashes of the athleticism and leadership under center that Auburn fans had been looking forward to.
The rust was expected, considering the now-redshirt sophomore hadn’t played a snap in 651 days.
Then came the Clemson aftermath, in which fans scrambled to label Stidham a bust and Malzahn a quarterback killer.
Although he was unable to keep his eyes off the pass rush amid the on-field chaos, off the field, the 21-year-old maintained a level head and trusted Auburn’s process. Stidham rated his confidence in the team’s offensive improvement at a “110 percent.”
“We’re going to regroup, we’re going to be a better offense,” he said following the loss in Death Valley. “There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to get this fixed.”
True to his word, a different player stepped onto Pat Dye Field at Jordan-Hare Stadium the next week. Auburn as a whole struggled against Mercer, narrowly skating by the Bears in a 24-10 win. Auburn coughed up the pigskin five times in a frustrating outing.
Stidham, however, turned in one of the most efficient games in conference history, completing 32-of-37 passes for 364 yards. At one point in the contest, he completed 18 consecutive passes, a program record.
The performance earned him a quarterback rating of 90. The quarterback’s completion percentage of 86.5 serves now as the second-highest in a SEC game with over 30 completions, right behind Tim Tebow’s mark of 88.6 against Cincinnati in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
While media and fans blasted the Tigers and cited no improvement, Stidham quietly had his first coming out party in the orange and blue.
Then he had another. And another.
The following week, Auburn opened SEC play at reeling Missouri. Stidham again carved up the defense, only this time it was from the deep ball, something the Tigers had been severely lacking in seasons past.
The Tigers completed their three deepest passes of the season in the 51-14 rout of Mizzou, including two of 50 yards or more. Those two 50-plus-yarders matched Auburn’s season total from 2016.
Stidham finished his first game in the Southeastern Conference with 218 yards and a score thanks to 13-of-17 passing. The QB boasted another insane quarterback rating, this time at 97.9.
Against Mercer and Missouri, Stidham compiled a completion percentage of 83.3, good for first in the conference. Standing in front of the Tigers now was Mississippi State, a squad touting one of the better passing defenses in the nation.
The best passing defense on the planet couldn’t break Stidham out of his groove last Saturday in Jordan-Hare.
Against Mississippi State, Auburn officially cemented themselves as a contender in the SEC West. A win over Missouri was impressive, but moving to 2-0 in the conference by way of a 49-10 victory over a ranked opponent served as a much stronger indication of offensive improvement.
Business as usual ensued for Stidham, who completed 13-of-16 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns in what was the most efficient performance for an Auburn quarterback since Heisman trophy winner and national champion Cam Newton in 2010.
Through this three-game tear, Stidham has carved up defenses, with 58 of his last 70 attempts completed. Following the blowout against State, he is now the No. 8 QB in the country in terms of completion percentage — not something that most fans expected to be hearing back in early September.
Even at Baylor as a backup, Stidham appeared to improve in every game in similar fashion to his game-by-game progression on The Plains. His backfield is now completely healthy, evident in junior tailback Kerryon Johnson’s eight touchdowns in the last two contests.
His offensive line has found their favorite rotation, evident in Stidham’s newfound confidence and poise in the pocket, where he has experienced significantly less pressure in the last three games.
Most importantly for the now-superstar quarterback, he isn’t backing down.
“One of my goals every week is to have a perfect completion game,” Stidham said. “Obviously, it doesn’t work out like that, but I try to get it as close as possible every week of the season.”
At the start of the season, we were two years removed from the Corbin, Kentucky native putting on a college football uniform.
Now, just weeks after being chewed up and spit out by the Clemson Tigers and Auburn fans, as Malzahn's team ventures into the meat of their conference schedule, Jarrett Stidham is thinking perfection every time he steps onto the field.
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman