AUBURN, Ala. — Although Auburn football faced a higher number of stacked boxes in the second half of its upset loss at LSU last Saturday, nothing seemed to change for quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
Numbers from SEC Country’s Film Room study of Auburn’s offensive performance against LSU show the Tigers ran the ball 74 percent of the time against LSU’s seven- and eight-man boxes after halftime.
On Sunday night, Stidham was asked about being able to check out of a run play and switch to a pass in that type of situation — like when Auburn faced them inside its own 5-yard line. The starting quarterback said he did not.
FERG’S FILM ROOM: Stubborn second-half strategy cost Auburn a win at LSU
“I mean, [that is] maybe something to transition into because they were doing that whenever we were backed up on our own goal line, but we were just trying to get out of that situation,” Stidham said Sunday. “That’s something just to look at and talk to Coach Lindsey about. I’m just doing what I’m told to do and I’m trying to execute at a high level. That’s really what it comes down to, just trying to execute the called play.”
Stidham’s answer and the coverage of it sparked plenty of questions from Auburn fan:
Why does Gus not trust his QB? Why not let him read a defense and audible on the field?
— GratefulCowboy (@Umph_melt0023) October 16, 2017
Has any Gus QB ever been able to audible? Ever audible I've seen has always come from the sideline.
— Fire Gus (5-2) (@NotSayi66386935) October 16, 2017
On Tuesday morning, Malzahn took several questions about those situations. According to the fifth-year coach, Stidham has more pre-snap control than any other quarterback in his coaching career:
“Jarrett probably has more flexibility than any quarterback that we’ve had since I’ve been in college,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “From the standpoint of change protections, the RPOs [run-pass options], the decision-making, he probably has more freedom than any quarterback we’ve had.”
The majority of Auburn’s run plays against stacked boxes in the second half against LSU appeared to be run-pass options. On these plays, Stidham has the ability to hand the ball off, keep it himself on a zone read, or throw it to a receiver — who is running a route instead of straight-ahead run blocking.
However, Stidham never kept the ball nor threw it off an RPO in the second half against LSU. All of his attempts came on traditional play-action or dropback passes.
Still, Malzahn said Stidham didn’t make the wrong decisions against the LSU defense in the scoreless second half.
“I don’t think there were a whole lot of reads that he misread,” Malzahn said. “Most of those we were talking about were more of the pass off of the zone read more than it was him keeping it. There were a few reads that he had, but he didn’t misread anything as far as that goes.”
Under Malzahn, new plays come after pre-snap checks and looks toward the sidelines. In these situations, coaches call the play changes — not the quarterbacks.
Here you go. Unless they're trying to snap the ball within 5 seconds of it being set, they're getting a new play after seeing the defense. pic.twitter.com/tKiIGyg1nW
— War Room Evil (@WarRoomEagle) October 16, 2017
However, in August, first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said Stidham might be able to check out of certain plays.
“You know, sometimes,” Lindsey said. “It depends. Not all the time, no, but sometimes. I think you try to call plays that maybe you don’t have to check out of, but there will be times I expect he has to do that.”
Stidham and Malzahn’s comments this week show he hasn’t done that yet, and he probably won’t for the time being. Still, Malzahn claims his quarterback has more freedom than other prolific ones in his past, including Cam Newton and Nick Marshall.
Malzahn said Auburn’s offense had several missed opportunities against LSU — a game in which the conservative Tigers ran it on 17 straight first downs. But he said he will take ownership of the mistakes over his quarterback or his offensive coordinator.
“Obviously, when you look back, we’d like to do things a little bit different there,” Malzahn said. “There were about four or five RPOs that were a chance to run or pass but obviously they ended up being running plays. Each game unfolds differently, you know. … It’s the head coaches’ responsibility. We’ve got to do better next time.”