AUBURN, Ala. — In Jarrett Stidham‘s second start for Auburn football, he only completed 13 passes for 79 yards at Clemson and was sacked 11 times.
In the Tigers’ four consecutive wins since, Stidham is averaging 270 passing yards per game and a completion rate of 79 percent. He has only been sacked 5 times in that span.
A lot has changed for Stidham since his first trip to Death Valley, a 14-6 loss to defending national champion Clemson in Week 2. He’ll enter his second trip — a visit to LSU’s Death Valley this Saturday — looking like a different quarterback.
“I think it’s just being comfortable,” Stidham said this week. “Honestly, I felt comfortable that Clemson game, we just didn’t execute well. The execution has been a lot better each week. We’re really starting to improve a lot.”
After a nightmare game and those 11 sacks against Clemson, Stidham has emerged as one of college football’s most efficient quarterbacks over the last four weeks.
It started with how he responded to the loss in the first Death Valley. Junior H-back Chandler Cox, Stidham’s roommate, said the quarterback didn’t want to overreact to one bad performance.
“He’s just real calm … and he has that quiet confidence about him,” Cox said. “Continue to get better each week. That Clemson game, I went to go talk to him, he was hanging his head. But I told him to stay strong and move on. It’s one football game. And that’s what he did.”
The loss gave Stidham the opportunity to self-reflect and build toward the future.
“You learn a lot about yourself when things kind of get rough,” Stidham said. “I know I’ve been through some rough patches in my life, and I learned a lot about myself through those. Football’s kind of the same way. You just learn from it, you try to grow from it, you try to improve for next week.”
The next week, he put together the second-highest single-game completion percentage in SEC history in a 24-10 win over Mercer. One week later, he won his first road game as a Tiger — a 51-14 victory at Missouri.
Although the pass attempts went down drastically from the 37 he had against Mercer, Stidham delivered three efficient performances in Auburn’s three straight SEC wins. He led an Auburn offense to 40-plus points in three consecutive SEC games for the first time in school history.
“I think any time you go through adversity, it either brings out the best in you or the worst in you, and I think it just brought out the best in him,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday. “Sometimes you have to go through experiences. … You can tell he’s getting better.”
The quarterback who looked hesitant in the pocket at Clemson was now hitting determined deep shots all over the field. Stidham’s top receiver in terms of targets, junior Ryan Davis, said that’s where he’s seen his quarterback improve the most.
“Just staying in the pocket, just trusting the offensive line and trusting they’re going to protect him,” Davis said Tuesday. “He’s just able to stay in there and be confident and be able to play football.”
Now that the rust has been sufficiently knocked off, Stidham will hit the second half of the season as a proven leader for the Auburn offense.
And while the Tigers went to Missouri a few weeks ago for its second road game of the campaign, the atmosphere in Columbia can’t compare to what Stidham will face in Baton Rouge on Saturday. After that, Auburn goes to Arkansas and Texas A&M before an “Amen Corner” combo of top-five rivals Georgia and Alabama.
The Auburn offense is ready to follow its leader — one that has improved dramatically since his last venture into a Death Valley.
“I think he’s putting the team on his back and I think that’s what’s what we’re going to need for this next stretch of games,” Cox said. “We’ve got LSU, [Texas] A&M, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama. We’ve got big games, and we’re going to have to get on Jarrett’s back. He’s going to have to lead us.”
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