AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn admitted Saturday afternoon the defense got the better of the offense during the first 13 days of Auburn football’s spring practice. But Jarrett Stidham tilted the balance back some in the annual A-Day spring game.
Stidham led Auburn’s first-team offense on 5 scoring drives in its 6 possessions during the first half Saturday. The Blue squad ultimately won 37-13, as the first-team defense held the reserves to a pair of field goals before halftime.
Here is SEC Country’s report card from Auburn football’s 2017 A-Day spring game. The below grades are based heavily on the performance of the first-team Blue units in the first half, but the reserves played a role in the final letters.
INSTANT ANALYSIS: Jarrett Stidham steals the show in Auburn spring game
If not for a Will Hastings fumble in the second quarter, Auburn’s first-team offense would’ve gone a perfect 6-for-6 on scoring opportunities in the first half. Stidham came out firing, completing a 50-yard pass and a 46-yard pass in the first quarter. He had only 4 incompletions all game, and he completed passes to seven different receivers.
The Blue offense delivered on the promise of more offensive balance under new coordinator Chip Lindsey. In fact, Auburn’s first-team offense had more pass attempts (Stidham’s 20) than rushing attempts (17) during the first half. A few of those were Stidham scrambles that were whistled dead quickly.
In terms of the running game, starter Kamryn Pettway sat out, as expected. Kerryon Johnson made a nifty move to score the first touchdown of the game, but he left the contest with a high ankle sprain. Stidham’s heads-up rushing touchdown in the second quarter saved the starters from a second fumble.
Backup quarterback Malik Willis looked impressive for a true freshman, leading Auburn on several scoring drives. The first-team offensive line kept Stidham’s pocket clean and allowed only 1 tackle for loss before halftime. Outside of some more clarity in the running back rotation, Lindsey’s offense answered plenty of questions.
The Auburn defense has a goal in 2017 — prove last year wasn’t a fluke, and do it without the likes of Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson and Rudy Ford. The Tigers got off to a good start in that regard at A-Day.
After Willis hit the first-team defense for a couple of chunk plays in the first half, Kevin Steele’s preferred unit locked down. The backups went only 1 for 7 on third down before halftime, running 24 plays for just 47 yards. The rushing attack generated only 6 yards against a tough defensive front.
Junior defensive end Paul James III starred for a defensive line looking for answers post-Lawson. He had 3 tackles for loss before the break. Junior linebacker Deshaun Davis picked up where he left off from last season, leading the first-teamers with 6 tackles and adding 1.5 tackles for loss.
However, the first-team Tigers will not look back on the zero in the takeaways column with fondness. Auburn came close on a couple of occasions to grabbing interceptions, but it couldn’t close the deal. Expect Steele and his staff to harp on that aspect all summer long.
Special Teams: Incomplete
Auburn didn’t run a single kickoff in Saturday’s game, and none of the punts were live. The Tigers also were without their projected starting punter, as Ian Shannon missed the contest because of a death in his family.
But the Tigers can feel confident in senior kicker Daniel Carlson. The two-time Groza Award finalist and now four-time A-Day special teams MVP hit all 5 of his field-goal attempts, including one from 55 yards out. While the punt team and the return units are still works in progress, the kicking team is still one of the nation’s best.
From a first-team perspective, Auburn football couldn’t have asked for much more out of A-Day — save a couple of missed turnover opportunities and the Johnson injury. The pass-heavier offense unloaded a better deep-ball attack with Stidham, and the defense allowed only a couple of big plays.
The talent gap was noticeable between the two teams, though, so all reaction should be taken in moderation. Still, Willis looked like the quarterback that players and coaches have raved about all spring, and redshirt freshman receiver Marquis McClain got loose for the longest play of the day.
“What stood out to me was our first defense, they’re really taking a step forward and they were a handful,” Malzahn said. “Today was really the first time we went ones against twos, and twos against ones. It’s been ones against ones, and it’s been a battle.”
Auburn can leave spring ball confident in the progress of both first-team units. Saturday was the ideal performance to energize the players and the fan base before the long summer.