Across the board, Auburn receivers ‘growing up’ as key playmakers

AUBURN, Ala. — Quarterback Jarrett Stidham and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey engineered a deep-passing revolution for Auburn football in their first month together. But they couldn’t do it alone.

Auburn’s wide receivers, which entered the 2017 season as unproven but potential-filled playmakers, have raised their game over the last few weeks. Stidham has put together three incredibly efficient and accurate performances, and his wideouts should take a chunk of that credit.

“The guys are making plays, and our receivers are growing up,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday. “They’re making plays down the field, and I think that is all starting to come together.”

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Malzahn’s key words there are “down the field.”

Through the first five weeks of the season, Auburn ranks inside the top 10 nationally in pass plays of 40-plus yards and 50-plus yards. Last season, Auburn ranked 69th and 97th in those categories, respectively. It already has twice as many 50-plus yard completions (4) than it had all of last season (2).

“That’s really what Chip’s emphasis has been: more explosive plays,” Malzahn said. “We’ve been able to do that the last two weeks and it’s really changed everything. He’ll continue to build upon those things.”

And it’s been a combined team effort. Four Auburn receivers average more than 20 yards per catch. Last season, it only had one — Kyle Davis, who was at 20.7. Davis currently averages 29.8 yards per catch.

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Auburn wide receiver Kyle Davis leads the team with a whopping 29.8 yards per catch. (Michael Chang/Getty Images)

“I think the biggest improvement in the shortest amount of time has been from the receivers, in my opinion,” Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson said Tuesday. “We challenged them a lot, especially after the Clemson game. They were heavily challenged, and I think they’ve started to answer the call.”

After struggling to get open the first two weeks of the season, Auburn’s receivers have made it easier for Stidham to complete more than 80 percent of his passes over the last three games. Drops haven’t been an issue.

David Speck, also known as @WarRoomEagle on Twitter, posted a graphic earlier this week that broke down Auburn’s receivers by target percentage — that is, how many times an individual is targeted divided by the total number of pass attempts — and yards per target.

(Click on the tweet for a larger view of the graphics.)

According to Speck’s numbers, which he took from Football Study Hall, the Tigers have improved dramatically in “yards per target.”

The balance between each of the top six receivers is normal, with Ryan Davis taking over the short-yardage, high-volume role. The receivers are just making more of their chances with deep plays and fewer mistakes.

Johnson noticed that rotation between big-play receivers against Mississippi State last weekend. In that game, Stidham completed 40-plus-yard passes to four receivers — Kyle Davis, Will Hastings, Darius Slayton and Eli Stove. Nate Craig-Myers had a long catch against Missouri for a touchdown the previous week.

It’s not one receiver raising his game to elite levels — all of them are taking steps forward with Stidham.

“Kyle is making a play downfield every game,” Johnson said. “Will is starting to come on a lot more in different roles. Jarrett is getting them the ball in prime positions. They are starting to block, Nate is blocking very well. I think those guys have really answered the call. With those guys making plays, it’s going to be a hard offense to stop.”

The defensive backs Auburn receivers face every day at practice see a change, too.

“You’re seeing a lot of guys that are stepping up and willing to give effort … it’s big for us and can help us out as a team,” senior safety Stephen Roberts. “Just to see a lot of young guys working at the position to be top dogs, I give tremendous effort to them and what they’re doing.”

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Auburn wide receiver Will Hastings leads the team with 257 receiving yards through five games. (Dakota Sumpter/Auburn Athletics)

With the receivers making more plays in the passing game, Auburn’s running backs haven’t been much of a factor as targets. Johnson, Kamryn Pettway, Devan Barrett, Kam Martin and Malik Miller have combined for only 13 catches in five games.

That doesn’t bother them, though.

“It’s hard to catch passes out of the backfield when your receivers are making plays as well,” Johnson said. “I was thinking about the same thing last night, like, ‘Man, I really don’t have a lot of catches.’ Well, if your receivers are getting open, there’s no need to go to a checkdown to a running back. … I’m happy with the way it’s going.”

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Auburn’s receivers still have plenty of room to grow. Hastings and Ryan Davis are the only upperclassmen in the group. Four of the top six receivers are sophomores, and two of them have missed games this season.

They’ll continue to develop alongside Stidham, who has started only eight games in his college career.

“I think you’ll see our wide receivers starting to grow up and have more confidence, and they’re getting more opportunities,” Malzahn said. “The last two weeks they’ve seized the moment, and we just need to continue to build upon those things.”

The post Across the board, Auburn receivers ‘growing up’ as key playmakers appeared first on SEC Country.

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