Will Jarrett Stidham solve Auburn's shaky QB situation?
Former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham’s decision to sign with Auburn could have far-reaching implications for several Tigers and their offense. The first player it will affect is Sean White, who is recovering from a shoulder injury but should be healthy enough to start the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma on Jan. 2.
White, the SEC’s most accurate and most efficient passer for most of 2016, has been good enough to lead Auburn to an 8-4 regular-season mark and at least a one-victory improvement over a year ago. But the Tigers have thrown so infrequently – 30 percent of the time – that White hasn’t instilled fear in opponents. And he’s not a threat in the running game.
The emergence of Kam Pettway – who has averaged 124.8 rushing yards per game to lead the SEC – helped the Tigers become the top running team in the conference. However, as well as White’s season began, once Pettway and Kerryon Johnson got going on the ground, Auburn’s passing game took a backseat.
With Gus Malzahn calling plays in 2015, White experienced a career-best three-game stretch by averaging 256 passing yards against Kentucky, Arkansas and Ole Miss. With Auburn’s renewed emphasis on the running game and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee taking over play-calling midway through 2016, White’s season-high for passing yards was 247 in the Tigers’ 40-29 win at Ole Miss.
To put those numbers in perspective, Stidham, a 6-3, 210-pound dual-threat QB, showed he could definitely stretch the field during his only season at Baylor in 2015. In parts of 10 games spent mostly as Seth Russell’s backup, Stidham completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 1,265 yards, 12 TDs and 2 interceptions.
Like White, Stidham also had a career-best three-game stretch in 2015 after Baylor lost starter Russell to a season-ending neck injury. Against Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Stidham averaged 311 passing yards, including a career-high 419 against the Wildcats.
Despite sitting out this season – Stidham attended McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, which doesn’t have a football team – he is the best passer on Auburn’s roster. That includes White, John Franklin III and the inexperienced Woody Barrett.
As good as Auburn’s ground game has been this season – the Tigers have averaged 278.5 rushing yards per game to rank sixth in the FBS – their offense has become one-dimensional and predictable as a result. Stidham appears to be the QB who can keep defenses honest, so what does his arrival mean for the Tigers’ returning signal callers?
White becomes a valuable backup
White has proven has can succeed in the SEC, but he hasn’t shown he can take Auburn to SEC Championship and national championship heights. Both he and Stidham have been backups before, but White has had parts of two seasons to stake his claim as Auburn’s starter.
In other words, White has had a decent opportunity but hasn’t pounced on it. Plus, Malzahn and Lashlee wouldn’t have brought in Stidham if they didn’t think he be could be Auburn’s No. 1 QB.
It remains to be seen if Stidham can solve SEC defenses, which are obviously better than the ones he has faced in the Big 12. But with three years of eligibility left, Stidham will have the opportunity to beat out White & Co. starting with spring practices.
Stidham was the No. 2-rated dual-threat QB prospect in the 2015 class, according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings. (Former Texas A&M starter Kyler Murray was No. 1.) Auburn offered him a scholarship then, too.
Malzahn praised Stidham, telling reporters Wednesday that he thought he was the “best quarterback in the country when he came out.”
Franklin becomes the odd man out
Franklin couldn’t beat out White before the season started, and he wasn’t able to supplant him after it kicked off. There were doubts about Franklin’s throwing ability, and the jury’s still out on that aspect of his game.
Franklin has thrown only 19 passes – completing 11 for 179 yards and a TD — but he hasn’t disappointed as a runner. The JUCO transfer has rushed 41 times for 414 yards and 2 scores, solid numbers if Auburn wants to keep using its run-heavy offense.
Meanwhile, Barrett – who hasn’t taken a snap in 2016 – still has a shot to be Auburn’s quarterback, but he has to beat out Stidham, White and Franklin. Barrett is apparently a better passer than Franklin, but if he couldn’t win last year’s competition that included White and Jeremy Johnson, expecting him to outperform Stidham & Co. is unrealistic.
Young receiving corps needs to develop
Senior Tony Stevens has emerged to lead Auburn in catches (29), receiving yards (466) and receiving TDs (3). But while he has impressed, Marcus Davis – the Tigers’ leading returning receiver – regressed, finishing with just 17 receptions for 160 yards.
Davis has been outperformed by Kyle Davis and Eli Stove, and along with fellow freshman Nate Craig-Myers, they were part of a much-ballyhooed 2016 recruiting class. Not only does Lashlee need to balance the offense by incorporating more passing plays, he needs a quarterback who can maximize the wideouts’ talents.
Regarding Auburn’s true freshmen, Kyle Davis has been White’s favorite target this season. But he’s made only 11 catches for 235 yards and 2 scores.
White has failed to pounce on a golden opportunity this season. Stidham just might be the guy to make the most of the rising sophomores’ skills.