AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football’s five turnovers in an ugly 24-10 win over Mercer overshadowed several positive moments for the Tigers offense. Many of those came from the arm of quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
In his third start for Auburn, Stidham nearly set the SEC record for completion percentage. He looked more like the calm, efficient quarterback Auburn wanted when it signed him as a graduate transfer by way of Baylor late last year. Stidham completed 32 of his 37 passes for 364 yards and a single interception.
“Me and [Auburn offensive coordinator Chip] Lindsey talked, and we wanted to get myself in a rhythm early and try to get the ball out quick,” Stidham said after the game. “I thought we did a really good job of that. There were a couple of things I could’ve done better. But overall, I felt pretty good. … Obviously, I’m getting more comfortable in this offense with Coach Lindsey and vice versa.”
After failing to complete at least 60 percent of his passes in back-to-back games against Georgia Southern and Clemson, Stidham was on target with 86.5 percent of his attempts against Mercer. At least two of those incompletions were drops by his receivers, who fumbled 3 times after catches Saturday.
Stidham’s 86.5 completion percentage was the second-highest in SEC history for a quarterback with at least 30 attempts in a game, behind Tim Tebow’s 88.6 percent night in the 2010 Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati.
Stidham also had the second-most completions in a single game in Auburn history behind Patrick Nix, who had 34 against Arkansas in 1995.
“I feel like we moved the football and did some good things,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “I don’t remember the last time we had a quarterback go out there and throw 32-for-37, but that’s a positive sign.”
Stidham didn’t complete more than three passes in a row in either of his first two starts at Auburn. On Saturday afternoon, he had a streak of 18 consecutive completions. Nine different receivers had catches, with all but one of them grabbing multiple receptions.
18 consecutive completions by @Jarrett_Stidham vs Mercer sets AU single-game record previously held by Stan White (16, 1993 vs NM State).
— Kirk Sampson (@AuburnSID) September 17, 2017
After struggling with the deep ball the first two weeks, Stidham had nine completions of 15-plus yards against Mercer. He also went 9-for-10 passing on third down.
“I felt like I saw the field really well [Saturday],” Stidham said. “Sometimes when it was third-and-10, they were dropping like eight. You’ve just got to find the window and go through the progression. I tried to stay in the pocket as long as I could and just make the throws.”
Stidham said he didn’t feel like he held onto the ball too long against Mercer, which was an issue in his first two starts. Auburn’s offensive line gave him huge stretches to throw after allowing 11 sacks last weekend to Clemson. The Tigers only gave up 1 sack and 1 quarterback hurry to the Bears on Saturday.
“Our offensive line did a great job protecting,” Stidham said. “I thought it went pretty well.”
Stidham said he had a couple of throws he wish he had back, including an interception and an run-pass option incompletion in which he “got Ryan [Davis] killed.”
His misfire on a slant to Nate Craig-Myers in the third quarter killed a solid drive into Mercer territory. The Bears scored on the ensuing possession.
“The read that I had, I made the right decision to pull it and throw it,” Stidham said. “I’ve just got to place it a little bit better to Nate. The corner was a little bit over the top of him, so I should have banged it a little more on his backside. That’s on me.”
The interception epitomized the day Stidham had with the Auburn offense. The Tigers turned the ball over four different times in Mercer territory on potential scoring drives. The other one, a Kyle Davis fumble, led to Mercer’s first three points of the game.
“Our main thing is to protect the ball, for sure,” said junior receiver Will Hastings, who had a game-high 71 yards on 3 catches. “I think everyone knows that. Overall, Jarrett was 32-for-37, which was amazing. Just protection of the football is what we need to work on.”
Those ball-security issues will stick in Stidham’s mind, even though he had one of the most efficient performances in recent Auburn history.
“Obviously, we wanted to put up more than 24 points on the board,” Stidham said. “We moved the ball really, really well. … We executed the game plan. We just have to not turn the ball over and put it in the end zone. That’s really it.”