This week, SEC Country is counting down the “7 from ’17” for the 2017 Auburn football season — seven picks in seven categories from the Tigers’ 10-win campaign. Up next, the top plays from 2017.
Auburn’s run to the SEC West championship and a second straight New Year’s Six berth had its fair share of big-time plays.
The Tigers’ offense had many more explosive plays threat thanks to Jarrett Stidham’s arm and the speed of several older skill players. A special teams play also made a huge difference in the season, and there was also a major highlight from a popular backup on the depth chart.
Here are the picks for the top seven plays from Auburn football’s 2017 season.
7 FROM ’17: Best Auburn players in 2017
7. Malik Willis’ 67-yard touchdown run against Mississippi State
Let’s kick things off with the first big play of the Malik Willis hype train campaign. Auburn was in the final minutes of a blowout win over Mississippi State when Willis took a simple read option and took off for a 67-yard touchdown run. Willis’ speed was already evident, but his vision and strength to pick the right lane and shove his way through a tackle were impressive. Willis’ first big play as an Auburn Tiger had fans dreaming big about the new No. 14’s potential at quarterback.
6. Nick Ruffin’s blocked punt and Malik Miller’s touchdown recovery against Texas A&M
Auburn had just gone up by a single point to finish a sleepy first half of football at Texas A&M. The Tigers were surprisingly aggressive in trying to get the ball back, though, and it paid off. Nick Ruffin blew through Texas A&M’s protection and slapped down a Shane Tripucka punt. Auburn had a number of players who could’ve landed on it for the touchdown, but Malik Miller was the one credited with the score. Auburn would go on to control the second half for a commanding win in College Station.
5. Ryan Davis’ 62-yard touchdown pass to Darius Slayton vs. Arkansas
For weeks, Auburn’s offense fell into the trap of not adjusting and easing off the accelerator after halftime. That changed in a big way against Arkansas. With Auburn already up by 25 points, offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey dialed up a reverse pass from former high school quarterback Ryan Davis to vertical threat Darius Slayton. Davis threw a pretty pass on the run, and Slayton caught it in stride for the score. It was a big-time highlight for an Auburn offense that needed it heading into a crucial month of November.
4. Kerryon Johnson’s 3-yard jump pass touchdown to Nate Craig-Myers vs. Alabama
Here’s how Auburn set the tone for a memorable Iron Bowl. Facing third-and-2 from the Alabama 3-yard line, the Tigers lined up in the wildcat formation. And, for one of the first times all season, Kerryon Johnson didn’t keep the ball. Instead, he pulled off a Tim Tebow-esque jump pass to an open Nate Craig-Myers, who was an unsung hero for Auburn’s receivers this season in terms of blocking. This time, he got to grab a touchdown in the Iron Bowl. Auburn took an early lead and never looked back en route to an SEC West title.
3. Jarrett Stidham’s 55-yard touchdown pass to Kerryon Johnson vs. Georgia
In terms of execution, this arguably was Auburn football’s best play of the season. The Tigers were in complete control midway through the fourth quarter against Georgia and put the finishing touches on a lopsided win with a perfect screen pass call. Georgia had the sweep to Ryan Davis and the deeper routes covered, but it forgot all about Johnson, who leaked out for a delayed screen and took it the distance. Auburn had a convoy of blockers ready for the eventual SEC Offensive Player of the Year.
2. Jarrett Stidham’s 16-yard touchdown run vs. Alabama
It can’t get much bigger than a play to clinch the Iron Bowl, right? Auburn led Alabama by 6 points early in the fourth quarter when Stidham took off on a run-pass option play. The sophomore quarterback wasn’t a prolific runner in his first season on the Plains, but he did enough at times to make defenses pay. This time, Stidham took advantage of good blocking ahead of him and directed traffic for a hard-nosed score. Auburn would go up by two scores and clinched its first Iron Bowl victory by more than 10 points since 1969.
1. Jarrett Stidham’s 42-yard touchdown pass to Darius Slayton vs. Georgia
This play had everything — stakes, significance, strategy and two sensational individual efforts. Auburn was in control against Georgia but only had a 9-7 lead to show for it in the second quarter. That changed when Stidham fired a 42-yard bomb to Slayton, who made an incredible catch to pull it down between two defenders and avoid a breakup. Bonus on this play: Gus Malzahn screamed “Get it to him!” early in the sequence, causing Georgia’s defense to attack Davis on a screen. That gave enough room for Stidham to fire a big touchdown pass that set the tone for a second-half rout.