The hype started building in December when former 5-star quarterback Jarrett Stidham committed to Auburn after transferring from Baylor. It seemed a perfect fit for a team that was last in the SEC in passing yards per game.
Especially with incumbent starting quarterback Sean White missing the spring in post-surgery rehab, it became a perfect opportunity to showcase Stidham’s potential. That all came to a head on Saturday afternoon, when Stidham suited up and started Auburn’s annual A-Day spring game.
It took 2 plays for Stidham to leave a lasting image. His first throw in an Auburn practice jersey was a 7-yard out route to wide receiver Will Hastings. The next was a 51-yard bomb to Nate Craig-Myers that was caught in stride. It was a sign of things to come.
Stidham dominated the day, completing 16 of 20 passes for 267 yards and adding a rushing touchdown off a broken play — despite playing only the first half. Stidham dealt balls all over the field, including a beautiful bomb to wide receiver Darius Slayton up the left sideline.
OK, Jarrett Stidham is Auburn's QB. pic.twitter.com/avkyUgm8FG
— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) April 8, 2017
Saturday was a pure passing clinic, the likes of which have not been seen on the Plains in years. That’s not hyperbole. The last time any Auburn quarterback threw for more than 267 yards in 1 game was Nov. 29, 2014, when Nick Marshall dropped 456 yards and 3 touchdowns in the highest-scoring Iron Bowl of all time.
Obviously, Saturday was just a spring game. Most of Stidham’s throws came against the Tigers’ second-team defense. Regardless, it was enough to turn heads at Auburn.
“I thought he managed the offense well,” coach Gus Malzahn said after the spring game. “I thought that he protected the football; that’s really where it starts. It was good for him to get out there in front of a crowd. He hasn’t been in front of a crowd playing football in a long time, so I think overall it was good for him, and it looked like the receivers made some plays, too.”
Auburn’s offense suffered without a true deep threat last season. White threw for more than 200 yards in 5 games. His career long completion went for 48 yards, and it was against ULM.
Enter Stidham. His first collegiate pass attempt produced a 42-yard touchdown. In 3 starts after replacing injured Baylor quarterback Seth Russell in 2015, Stidham had at least 257 yards and a touchdown in every game, including an injury-shortened road game against Oklahoma State. He completed passes of 59 and 81 yards in those 3 Baylor starts.
Stidham averaged 11.6 yards per attempt during his brief stay in Waco. That went up to 11.5 yards per attempt in starts, despite the 3 games coming against Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. For comparison, Auburn quarterbacks averaged 7.6 yards per attempt last season.
None of this means Stidham will have success against tougher SEC defenses. He has yet to play in an SEC game. Playing at Kyle Field, both Death Valleys and Jordan-Hare will provide pressure unlike anything he has experienced.
Heck, former quarterback Jeremy Johnson had a killer spring game before the 2015 season, which launched him into the Heisman conversation. Johnson quickly flamed out after winning the starting job. That could happen to Stidham.
But after watching the effortless spring-game performance, the potential is there.
— SEC Country Auburn (@SECCountryAU) April 8, 2017
The hype train won’t slow down any time soon. Two days ago, Stidham made the cut for top-20 Heisman Trophy contenders in the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, starting at 50-1 odds. His ability to win the Heisman likely will depend on Auburn’s record, but Stidham has a national presence unlike almost any Tigers quarterback since Marshall.
Get used to Stidham’s name being mentioned among the top players in the SEC. Especially in a conference starving for passing talent after an underwhelming 2016, Stidham will be the biggest story heading into the season.
“That’s pretty much what we’ve seen all spring,” junior running back Kerryon Johnson said after the spring game. “Jarrett is a guy that when he first got here, obviously, everyone was skeptical — is he really that good? Is he this and that? I think he is.”