ATLANTA — Jarrett Stidham was sitting on the couch in Texas watching the 2016 SEC Championship Game when he tweeted about how he he couldn’t wait for his chance to take center stage in Atlanta.
The opportunity came 364 days later, after the quarterback had joined Auburn and led the Tigers to the top of the SEC West. The result, however, was different than he’d dreamed it would be.
Georgia’s talented defense got after Stidham like it hadn’t when the two teams first met in Jordan-Hare Stadium. As a result, the quarterback who’d been an impact player struggled to be a difference maker in the title game.
“They did a great job of bringing a lot of different looks, switching up the coverages, blitzes, fronts, I mean, everything,” Stidham said. “They did a great job tonight of switching it up and causing a little bit of havoc. It is what it is. We just didn’t execute when we should have.”
The sophomore completed 16 of 32 passes for 145 yards against Georgia and added 25 yards on the ground. His only touchdown throw was to wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers in the first quarter. Stidham was sacked 3 times, fumbling after he was run down from behind in the second quarter.
Stidham fought and scrambled in an attempt to turn the tide for the Tigers. It wasn’t a lack of effort or grit from Auburn’s quarterback that was the problem.
“He’s extremely tough. He’s a winner. He’s a true Auburn man,” offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said after the win. “I think he represents this university as well as anybody. I thought he battled all the way to the end, it just wasn’t our night.”
Turnovers — one of which came from Stidham when he was sacked by a player he never saw coming — cost Auburn chances to score. The Tigers moved the ball at times and racked up 259 yards of total offense, but failed to capitalize when they got anywhere near the end zone.
Still, as Auburn fell apart in the second half of the championship game, Stidham did his best to hold his offense together. After all, he was a primary reason why Malzahn’s squad won five games after a devastating trip to Baton Rouge. His message was loud and clear on the sidelines.
“He’s a great competitor,” wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers said. “He gave it all he had, you know? We love Jarrett. He loves us. He told us to keep our heads up, take one play at a time. We went out there and fought for each other.”
Stidham managed to find a bright side (however dim) following the disappointing loss. Auburn football’s leader reflected on his first year on the Plains and turned toward improving and the bright future he believes his team has.
“I think it’s something to be really proud of regardless of the outcome of tonight,” Stidham said. “You know, losing to LSU that way and coming back and winning five straight and beating two No. 1s in three weeks and setting ourselves up for an SEC championship, I think that’s a lot to be proud of. Like you said, we didn’t finish it, but it’s still a lot to build off of.”