AUBURN, Ala. — Watching Jarrett Stidham must have been a top priority for the 46,331 fans who entered Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday for Auburn football’s A-Day spring game.
And the former Baylor quarterback didn’t disappoint a single one of them. Stidham had a dazzling debut in front of the Tiger faithful, showcasing a knack for deep balls that Auburn just hasn’t had in the last several seasons.
Stidham led the first-team Blue offense to five first-half scoring drives — including three touchdown trips — in a 34-13 victory for the starters over the second-stringers. He had four passes of 30-plus yards in the opening two quarters and even added a rushing touchdown after a fortunate fumble by his running back.
SPRING GAME: Rewinding all the action from Jordan-Hare Stadium
Defensively, the first-team Auburn unit only allowed 47 yards and a pair of field goals before halftime. While true freshman quarterback Malik Willis put together a nice show of his own, the Tigers’ defense feasted with three sacks and six tackles for loss before the break.
Auburn football players of the game
OFFENSE: QB Jarrett Stidham (16-for-20 passing, 267 yards; 5 “carries”, 17 yards, 1 TD)
Stidham showcased his full arm talent from the first drive of Saturday’s game. His second pass of the day went for 40 yards to sophomore wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers. He completed passes in extremely tight windows to Will Hastings and Craig-Myers to move the chains.
The sophomore also got some opportunities to show off his running ability, although referees were quick to whistle down any rushes from the non-contact quarterbacks. Auburn’s final touchdown of the first half came when running back Kam Martin lost the ball, and it bounced fortunately into the path of Stidham for a 1-yard score.
That was just how the day went for Stidham. Outside of a couple of misfires where he put too much air under the ball, the Texas native couldn’t stop making plays for his new team.
DEFENSE: DE Paul James III (4 tackles — 3 for loss — and 1 sack)
Paul James III transferred to Auburn from JUCO last season and was on the fast track to early playing time. However, a season-ending knee injury in the first month of the campaign changed things for the Florida native.
James returned to action this spring with a chance to win the pass-rushing Buck role vacated by the NFL-bound Carl Lawson. He responded by having the best day of any defensive lineman on the Blue team, coming up with three tackles for loss against the second-team offense.
Defensive line coach Rodney Garner said earlier in camp James needed to get more consistent, as it looked like his injury bothered him at times. On Saturday, he looked nothing like the “one-legged defensive end” Garner lamented in practices. James can be a force in the SEC this year.
Is Jarrett Stidham ready to take over as Auburn football’s top quarterback?
This question received a loud and clear answer Saturday afternoon. Stidham had completions of 46 and 50 yards in the first quarter. Returning starter Sean White, who sat out the game as part of his recovery from injury, hasn’t completed a pass longer than 48 yards in his Auburn career.
Combined with new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, Auburn’s passing game had much-needed new life with Stidham in the annual spring game. The big plays came against a thin second-team defense, sure, but it was a far cry from the low-scoring performance White, John Franklin III and Jeremy Johnson put up last spring.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said the Tigers wouldn’t make a decision on the 2017 starting quarterback until White is fully healthy again. While this will look like a “quarterback battle” heading into fall camp, the Tigers’ best option for the fall was the one completing perfect deep balls Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
How bad is Kerryon Johnson’s ankle injury?
Auburn sat out junior running back Kamryn Pettway, the SEC’s leader in rushing yards per game last season, from A-Day action Saturday. That put the first-team running back duties to junior Kerryon Johnson, who should play a key role in 2017 with his versatility.
However, Johnson hobbled off the field after the second drive from the Blue team offense. The SEC Network reported Johnson’s issue as a high ankle sprain. Although he left the field on his own power, the injury put a damper on what was an explosive performance from Stidham in the first half.
Fortunately for Auburn, Johnson has five months to recover from the ankle injury before the start of the season. The last thing coaches want to see in a spring game is a major health issue, but the Tigers couldn’t avoid it Saturday.