What’s been separating the Auburn Tigers from being a great football team instead of just a good, average, eight-win SEC squad has been the quarterback position.
Well, entering the 2017 season, that won’t be the case no more.
On Saturday night, Dec. 10, the college football world was a buzz as former Baylor and 5-star signal caller Jarrett Stidham announced he will be transferring to Auburn. Stidham, who had spent a semester at McLennan Community College, ultimately decided on playing for Gus Malzahn because he believes the Tigers have a bright future.
In an interview with USA Today’s Daniel Uthman, Stidham stated his desire to attend a school that will put him in the best chance to win a championship:
“I just want to find a great coaching staff; that’s big for me,” he says. “At Baylor I was around a lot of good people, and I want to find something like that. That’s a big deal. Also an offense that can put up a lot of points. I want to find a team that is full of good guys on and off the field. A team that I feel like can help me achieve every team goal that I’ve ever wanted — conference championships, Playoffs, national championships.”
Stidham’s addition to the Tigers should make their offense a College Football Playoff contending unit next year.
One of the biggest offensive strengths for Auburn this year has been quarterback Sean White’s accuracy. The sophomore signal caller had completed 65.2 percent of his passes this season while maintaining a 3:1 TD:INT ratio. If Stidham were to win the starting position away from White, the Tigers wouldn’t be sacrificing efficiency through the air.
During Stidham’s one year at Baylor, the 6-foot-4 signal caller saw action in 10 games. In those outings, he completed 68.8 percent of his passes with a 6:1 TD:INT ratio. Now, most of the action he saw with the Bears was in garbage time, but when then starting Seth Russell suffered a neck injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the year, Stidham excelled in his three starts.
Stidham’s three starts were against two Top 5 teams; those being Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Stidham also faced a Top 20 team in Kansas State. In those three games, Stidham completed 63 percent of his attempts while throwing for 934 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions.
Although Stidham and White are both comparable in the accuracy department, Stidham possesses two attributes that the latter quarterback doesn’t: The ability to consistently throw the ball deep and being a dual-threat option.
The biggest knock on White has has been his ability to consistently hit his receivers deep. Stidham averaged a blistering 11.6 yards per throw in Baylor’s explosive offense in 2015.
With the likes of Kyle Davis, Nate Craig-Meyers, Darius Slayton and Elive Stove set to come back next season, they and the Tigers will finally have a quarterback who can push the ball downfield with accuracy.
Auburn’s offense works 10 times better when it has a signal caller who can effectively run the ball. Even though Stidham’s rushing numbers at Baylor don’t reflect it—he only ran for 70 yards and two touchdowns—he is a true dual threat quarterback.
In his last two years in high school, Stidham rushed for 1,790 yards and 29 touchdowns.
In 2014, SB Nation’s Wescott Eberts scouted Stidham and gave his two cents on the quarterbacks running ability:
The former wide receiver does have some lateral quickness and is big enough to break some arm tackles at the high school level. The Inverted zone read is his best running play because it allows him to get downhill quickly instead of moving sideways, but he also shows a nice feel for when to pitch or keep the ball on the speed option, hardly a given for a dual-threat quarterback.
If Stidham winds up becoming the starter in the plains, opposing defenses will have to respect his running abilities. He didn’t have to do much running at Baylor but Auburn will certainly be willing to utilize such a devastating trait.
Although he brings a ton to the table, there is one con: durability. Stidham broke his ankle during his third start at Baylor against Oklahoma State. He also injured his hand that game, which is something he did during his senior year of high school too. So that will be a question mark for him once he gets there. However, having depth at quarterback will be a luxury for Auburn in 2017.
Despite having a durability issue, Stidham, even though he isn’t guaranteed the starting position, could and likely will make this Tiger offense better. Auburn’s offensive future got even brighter when running back Kamryn Pettaway announced he will be returning to school. With an offense consisting of Stidham, an offensive line that will probably better than this year’s, Pettway and Kerryon Johnson returning in the backfield and the core of wide receivers returning, SEC defenses should be frightened and should transform the Tigers into a playoff contender in 2017.