AUBURN, Ala. — Welcome to a special postseason edition of Ferg’s Film Room here at SEC Country. This week, let’s break down the play of Auburn’s newest and perhaps its most important pickup in years — former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
Stidham enrolled early at Baylor in 2015 and was the backup to Seth Russell in the Bears’ high-powered offense. After Russell suffered a season-ending neck injury, Stidham made the next three starts for Baylor before suffering a season-ending ankle injury of his own.
In his three starts, Stidham showcased the skill set that made him a blue-chip high school quarterback and the perfect fit for Art and Kendal Briles’ offense. Now Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee are hoping those attributes can translate well to what they run at Auburn, where he’ll be expected to win the starting job in 2017.
For this Film Room, I went back and watched every one of Stidham’s offensive plays from his three starts — a road win against Kansas State, a home loss to Big 12 champion Oklahoma and a home win against Oklahoma State that was cut short due to injury.
Here’s a passing chart of the direction and distance of Stidham’s 81 pass attempts in those three games.
|Jarrett Stidham Passing Chart |
2015 vs. KANSAS STATE, OKLAHOMA and OKLAHOMA STATE
|20+ left |
4-10 for 183 yds/1 TD/0 INT
|20+ middle |
2-4 for 95 yards/0 TD/0 INT
|20+ right |
4-8 for 160 yards/1 TD/1 INT
|10-19 left |
3-4 for 68 yds/0 TD/0 INT
|10-19 middle |
5-5 for 96 yds/0 TD/0 INT
|10-19 right |
2-4 for 44 yds/1 TD/0 INT
|1-9 left |
11-12 for 106 yds/1 TD/0 INT
|1-9 middle |
3-6 for 31 yds/0 TD/0 INT
|1-9 right |
6-11 for 50 yds/1 TD/1 INT
|Behind LOS left |
7-8 for 59 yards/0 TD/0 INT
|4 throwaways|| |
Behind LOS right
Now, let’s break down what Stidham brings to Auburn as a quarterback, judging by the tape of his three previous college starts.
The deep ball
Stidham and Baylor’s offense was a perfect marriage of strong-armed quarterback and big-play offense. In 2015, Baylor led the nation with 42 passes of 30-plus yards. The Bears were tops nationally in that category for four straight years.
Baylor gave Stidham the keys to its big play offense after Seth Russell went down, and that included a pair of vertical stars in Corey Coleman and KD Cannon. The Bears weren’t tentative with Stidham in his first career start against Kansas State — he had touchdown throws of 55 yards and 81 yards before halftime.
As the chart above shows, Stidham went deep and to the left often in his three starts. He went 4-for-10 on those throws, which was his worst completion percentage. However, he still averaged a monstrous 18.3 yards per attempt in that area, and he didn’t throw anything close to an interception on that side of the field.
Of course, having the best wide receiver in college football helped Stidham tremendously. But no matter which receivers he threw to at Baylor, he showed the arm strength and touch to lay passes in there on time.
Fox color commentator Joel Klatt called it “layering” his throws when he called the Kansas State game — placing the pass over the cornerback or linebacker and fitting it under the helping safety. Klatt was especially blown away by Stidham’s arm talent for a true freshman during his call of the Kansas State and Oklahoma State games.
And whenever his receivers were open deep — which happened a lot in the Baylor offense — Stidham never seemed to miss.
Outside of a deep ball interception to the right side against Oklahoma in rainy conditions, Stidham didn’t put himself in any real danger with those deep ball throws. Whenever he missed, he missed in a way that only his receiver could get to it. Most of his misses came when he put a little too much air under the ball.
Against Oklahoma, he put a little too much faith in his arm, especially on the previously mentioned interception. He threw straight into double coverage, and the pass came out sideways. That fell right into the hands of a Sooner defender, ending any hopes of a Baylor comeback.
Sean White did an excellent job when healthy in 2016 of being extremely precise on the short-to-intermediate-range throws. However, he was inconsistent with his deep ball. In Stidham, Auburn has a taller signal-caller with a stronger arm, more touch and plenty of experience rifling it down the field.
Down the middle
One area to highlight about Stidham’s passing tape is his precision down the middle of the field. As the above chart shows, he was a perfect 5-for-5 on 10-plus yard passes in the center. He went 2-for-4 on deep balls down the middle, including this precise post pattern to Cannon:
Of Stidham’s five incompletions down the middle of the field, four were drops. He had a great chance to be virtually perfect in that area of the field during his three starts for Baylor.
The middle of the field usually has a bunch of traffic with cornerbacks, linebackers and safeties converging to make plays. Stidham repeatedly threw the ball into tight windows and found success. Even some of his incompletions were replay-worthy:
Stidham’s precision down the middle of the field is great news for the Auburn offense, which likes to set up a lot of deep passing plays between the numbers. Auburn loves to run post patterns and double-moves that take receivers toward the center, and Stidham feasted on those opportunities in Waco.
Watch the fakes
There’s a misconception about the Baylor offense that it’s pass-heavy. While the Bears attempt more passes per game than Auburn, they’re very much one of those — to borrow an often-used Malzahn line — “run, play-action teams.”
Scroll back to the last three highlights embedded in this post. All three of those deeper pass attempts from Stidham came off play-action. He does a good job of selling it, and defenses have to respect it. Baylor had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in 2015 and two more than cracked 500 yards.
That’s another area in which Stidham looks tailor-made for the Auburn offense. He’s used to running a lot of plays with zone-read or veer action. On a few plays, he waits until the last possible second to pull the ball out from the running back and hit the receiver.
Remember the pop passes Auburn ran a lot with Nick Marshall? Stidham ran quite a few of those at Baylor, including this cleverly disguised one to an H-back:
When given the time in the pocket, Stidham also showed off a decent pump fake. His best use of it came against Oklahoma State, where he got the Cowboys to bite on a hitch-and-go pattern to Cannon for a touchdown:
Stidham showed good ball security during his time at Baylor and was able to manipulate defenses into giving up bigger plays through the air. Combine that with a ground game of Kamryn Pettway, Kerryon Johnson and others, and Stidham is in a perfect position on the Plains.
A different dual-threat
Stidham was the No. 2-rated dual threat quarterback out of high school behind Kyler Murray, the former Texas A&M phenom who is now at Oklahoma. He rushed for 1,790 yards and 29 touchdowns in his junior and senior years of high school.
At Baylor, though, the Bears didn’t put much responsibility on him to run the ball. He kept the ball on a couple of zone reads, plowing over a defender and into the end zone on his first drive against Kansas State.
But with Seth Russell already hurt, Baylor tried to keep Stidham upright as much as possible. The majority of his 44 rushing yards in these three starts came on scrambles.
Instead of carrying the ball on designed running plays, Stidham used his mobility to open up more space to make plays through the air. Against Oklahoma State, he made a great move to sidestep a defender in the pocket and throw a rocket for a first down:
He made a similar move against Oklahoma to toss a second-half touchdown pass:
Stidham will carry an injury history with him to Auburn, and he’s not a pure burner on the ground like Marshall or a John Franklin III. But he’s had more success running the ball than White, and he’s nimble in the pocket.
Auburn fans looking for a true run-first quarterback won’t find it in Stidham. But he looks like an improved option for an offense that ranked No. 5 nationally in rushing yards per game with a pass-first quarterback.
The bottom line
Stidham will arrive at Auburn as the purest passer on the roster. Neither White nor Franklin have the consistency that Stidham does in all areas and distances of the field. He’s familiar with playing in a run-first offense, but he can bring a new level of explosion that fits the young receiving corps on the Plains.
At Baylor, Stidham’s mistakes usually fell to miscommunication with his receivers or putting too much faith in his throws. Those are common flaws for a true freshman quarterback. At Auburn, Stidham will be coming off a season away from competitive action, but he’ll be another year older and smarter as a signal-caller.
Stidham has the legs to make teams pay on the ground, but Baylor wanted to do most of his damage in the pocket. One would imagine Malzahn and Lashlee will ask him to do the same at Auburn if he wins the starting quarterback job. If defenses over-pursue Auburn’s running backs, he has the skill set to hit play-action passes, run-pass options or straight quarterback runs.
Even with his year without competitive football and the injury concerns he carries with him from Texas, Stidham will enter preseason practices for 2017 as the favorite to be Auburn’s top quarterback.
He brings the arm strength and mobility Auburn has lacked in its starters over the last two seasons, and he’ll be counted on to take the Tigers offense to the next level.