AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football’s emphasis on throwing the ball more in 2017 was evident from its first scrimmage of spring practice.
According to coach Gus Malzahn, the Tigers passed twice as much in their first scrimmage than they had in years past. Auburn’s offense, which ran the ball nearly 70 percent of the time in 2016, had a more even split of calls Saturday morning at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“We had 60 percent run, 40 percent pass,” Malzahn said. “Usually, our first scrimmages in the past have been 80 (run), 20 (pass). We were a little bit more balanced. We talked about really for the offense trying to be more balanced. So that was by design.”
SPRING PRACTICE: Gus Malzahn recaps Auburn’s first scrimmage of 2017
The push for more offensive balance came on a day in which former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham made his Jordan-Hare Stadium debut.
Stidham, who averaged 27 pass attempts per start in his true freshman season at Baylor, said he felt comfortable in a pass-heavier environment Saturday.
“It was a lot of fun,” Stidham said. “Those receivers, they worked their butts off today. Granted, our defense is really, really good so it only makes us better each practice. But it’s good to go out there and sling it around a little bit.”
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Auburn’s offense scored several passing touchdowns in the opening scrimmage. According to wide receiver Will Hastings, Stidham threw one. Junior quarterback Sean White, who didn’t participate in 11-on-11 work as part of his recovery from injury, said quarterback-turned-receiver John Franklin III caught another one.
Stidham said the first-team offense “had some big explosive plays down the middle of the field” Saturday. Auburn’s offense also worked on deep passes, which were major problems for the offense in 2016 and key reasons for signing Stidham last December.
“There were a handful of deep shots,” Malzahn said. “Tried to give our guys some deep shots down the field in the vertical passing game. … I would say anywhere from probably eight to 10, just thinking off my head.”
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Auburn’s greater emphasis on throwing the ball in its first 11-on-11 scrimmage of spring practice was also a welcome sight to the defense.
“It gives us a lot more action in the back end,” junior cornerback Carlton Davis said. “I mean, I can say I’m happy about it because it’s a lot more competition, and I’m not just out there sticking dummy routes. It’s a chance for me to get better.”
Overall, Malzahn said he felt like the big plays were “pretty even” between the offense and the defense on Saturday. The general feeling around the scrimmage was that the developing passing attack could use it as a base for the rest of preseason practices.
“They’re continuously getting better, and we’re going against some really good defensive backs,” Malzahn said. “When our receivers go against our first group of defensive backs, it’s real football. It’s always a good match.”