What's changed for Auburn since the disappointing Mercer game? Plenty
The Auburn Tigers didn’t get off to the best of starts this season, losing to the defending national champion Clemson Tigers in Week 2 while allowing QB Jarrett Stidham to get sacked 11 times.
Coach Gus Malzahn’s squad then followed that 14-6 loss up with a disappointing 24-10 effort against Mercer — a team they should have beaten by way more.
However, since then, the Tigers have been incredible, crushing Mizzou and Mississippi State in back-to-back weeks.
So, how did a team that looked mediocre against an FCS foe like Mercer turn things around so quickly?
Here are just a few things that Auburn has done better since the Week 3 letdown against the Bears:
They’re finding an offensive identity
No, Jarrett Stidham isn’t throwing for 400 yards every week like everyone seemingly expected, but he’s settling into a groove and has become a reliable starter.
Auburn’s bread-and-butter was always going to be its running game, and Kerryon Johnson has certainly been up to the task. Even while dealing with a less-than-healthy hamstring, he’s run for an incredible nine touchdowns (including eight the past two weeks).
Kamryn Pettway, expected to be the top back, hasn’t been fully healthy, but if he can get back near 100 percent after the bye on Oct. 21, the Tigers will have their top duo in full force.
Add in a bruising offensive line (which has improved a lot since the Clemson game) and some emerging receivers, and Malzahn has this unit humming along nicely.
Can it continue to have success against top programs such as Georgia and Alabama? That remains to be seen, but from what we’ve seen so far, neither of those teams will be particularly excited to head to Jordan-Hare Stadium this year.
Jarrett Stidham is more comfortable with his receivers
Many were beginning to wonder if the Stidham hype was too much after the highly rated Baylor transfer had his fair share of struggles through the first three games of the season.
However, 10 players caught passes against Mizzou and eight guys had receptions against Mississippi State, so not only is Stidham developing more confidence in Malzahn’s system, he’s also spreading the ball around at an impressive clip.
Ryan Davis is turning into a reliable possession receiver and one of Stidham’s favorite targets, while Kyle Davis, Eli Stove and Will Hastings have all flashed big-play potential in recent weeks.
They’ve cut down on turnovers
Obviously, two games is a small sample size, but after committing five turnovers against Mercer, the Tigers have only given the ball away twice in the past two games (two fumbles against Mississippi State).
Stidham hasn’t thrown an interception since the Mercer game, while still completing a ridiculous percentage of his passes.
If they can continue taking care of the football through the air and get a couple of luckier bounces when they put the ball on the ground, they can compete with anyone.
Obviously, with games against Georgia and Alabama looming, winning the turnover battle will be one of the biggest keys for success.
The defense is getting off the field
In addition to playing at an elite level, the Auburn defense is also stuffing third-down attempts at an impressive rate. Mizzou only managed to convert four of its 13 third-down tries, while Mississippi State’s conversion rate was a dismal 7-of-21.
When you have an offense that can control the ball the way Auburn’s can, it’s easy to stay rested as a defense if you can make third-down stops.
The Tigers have proven they can do just that against SEC competition this year, so their next two opponents — Ole Miss and LSU — should be very worried.