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Jarrett Stidham against pressure will determine Auburn’s success

In Auburn’s four losses last year, each team brought “the house” and it affected Stidham’s play. How he handles pressure this season will determine just how good the Tigers will be.

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Auburn vs Central Florida Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham is considered one of the best signal callers in nation. After somewhat of a slow start, the Tiger quarterback threw for 3,158 yards, 18 touchdowns and 6 interceptions while maintaining a 66.5-percent completion rate.

Heading into the 2018 season, ESPN believes Stidham is the SEC’s best returning player. Stidham should even be a strong contender for the Heisman Trophy.

With Auburn kicking off the year with the Washington Huskies in Atlanta, it begs the question on will the Tigers get the Stidham who was on a complete tear heading into the 2017 SEC Championship game or the quarterback who floundered against Georgia and Central Florida to end the season.

Entering the 2017 SEC Championship Game, Stidham was performing on a different level. The Tigers’ quarterback was completing passes at a remarkable 73.4-percent over the previous four games with an eight to one touchdown to interception ratio. He threw for over 200 yards in each game, and Auburn was never threatened despite playing two top-ranked opponents.

That hot streak failed to continue against Georgia and Stidham threw two costly interceptions in the Peach Bowl in Auburn’s embarrassing loss to UCF. The Tigers went away from the run in the bowl game — primarily because Kerryon Johnson was hurt — and left it up to Stidham to deliver a win; something he failed to deliver on.

According to anonymous coach that spoke to Sports Illustrated, the reason why Stidham’s play simmered was because opponents started figuring him out. The unnamed coach told SI that Stidham s affected by the pass rush and tends to lose concentration when pressured.

“There’s still a lot to be desired with quarterback Jarrett Stidham,” the anonymous coach said. “Facing a rush, his eyes come down: He gets nervous because he doesn’t want to get hit. If you’re bringing pressure—or even if you act like you are—he’s going to see it and it’s going to affect him. People caught onto that at the end of the year. In its Peach Bowl win, UCF did a great job of pressuring him.”

If teams truly did “catch onto” Stidham’s weakness, why didn’t Alabama figure out to bring the pressure in the Iron Bowl? However, that’s neither here nor there. But, that anonymous coach may be onto something if one were to look Stidham’s 2017 game log.

In Auburn’s four losses last season (Clemson, LSU, Georgia and UCF), Stidham had his four worst performances. Against Clemson, the quarterback completed only 54.2-percent of his passes for a mere 79 yards. Going against LSU, Stidham completed an abysmal 34.6-percent of his throws. In the SEC Championship game, Georgia held Stidham to a 50-percent completion rate and as previously mentioned, Stidham had two costly interceptions against UCF.

In all four of those games, Stidham faced continuous pressure. Clemson sacked Stidham 11 times, LSU took him down three times — including a game clinching sack, Georgia got to Stidham three times as well, and UCF sacked Auburn’s signal caller six times.

While getting sacked three-plus times in each of those four games probably affected Stidham’s performance, but also the constant pressure did too. All game long in those four outings, Clemson, LSU, Georgia and UCF brought “the house” throughout each quarter. And because of that Stidham had plays like these:

Against Clemson, LSU, Georgia and UCF, whenever those four teams brought pressure, Stidham’s internal clock went off too early sometimes which resulted him taking off and running when it wasn’t necessary. Improvement against pressure is actually something that NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah wants to see out of Stidham in 2018.

“I’d also like to see Stidham improve his patience in the pocket,” Jeremiah said. “His internal clock goes off too early at times and he will take off running. As a result, there are some missed opportunities and he takes unnecessary hits as a runner. This can be improved with more reps, and I think he’ll be more comfortable in the upcoming season.”

When Stidham faced little to no pressure last year, he dominated games. In Auburn’s first meeting against Georgia, the Tigers’ signal caller threw 214 yards and three touchdowns. Then versus Alabama, Stidham threw for 237 yards while running for 51 yards and a score.

We will obviously see if the anonymous coach’s statement holds up, as Stidham faces Washington and LSU early in the season — especially since Auburn replace four along the offensive line. But one thing is clear, how Stidham handles teams bringing pressure will determine how Auburn fares this season.