AUBURN, Ala. — There’s being comfortable with your quarterback, and then there’s what Auburn football did in the third quarter against Mississippi State on Saturday night.
After a dream punt from the Bulldogs pinned Auburn inside the 1-yard line, the Tigers told Jarrett Stidham to go deep. When he sat back in the pocket, his feet were all over the “TIGERS” painted into the end zone. A mistake would’ve gotten Mississippi State right back into what was then a two-score game.
It was a major risk. Then again, Stidham was in the middle of the most efficient performance by an Auburn quarterback since a Heisman winner named Cam Newton.
Stidham delivered a pass over the middle to Eli Stove, who escaped for a 57-yard gain against a Mississippi State defense that had allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards in college football through four weeks.
“That was big,” Stidham said after Auburn’s 49-10 win over Mississippi State. “It kind of speaks to the confidence we have. I know up front, we have a lot of confidence in them. Out wide, we have a lot of confidence in them. I think it’s a testament to our hard work and dedication. … It’s the confidence in how good this offense we can really be.”
Auburn showed just “how good” its offense could be with Stidham at the helm Saturday night. In his fifth start at Auburn, Stidham completed 13 of his 16 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns.
His quarterback rating finished at 261.1. The last Auburn quarterback to hit that number was Newton, who did it against FCS team Chattanooga in 2010.
Stidham, on the other hand, did it against an SEC defense. He completed four passes of 40-plus yards, with two of them cracking 50-plus yards. Auburn only had two 50-yard completions in 13 games last season.
“Our quarterback was very efficient again,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “I thought that was really something. … I think you see him every week get more and more comfortable. We’re protecting him well, and the guys are making plays.”
Stidham already hit impressive highs in efficiency and accuracy heading into the Mississippi State matchup. Against Mercer, he posted the second-best completion percentage in SEC history, behind another Heisman winner — Tim Tebow.
Against Missouri last weekend, he averaged 12.8 yards per completion and hit his first impressive deep balls of the season.
He put both aspects of his game together against Mississippi State — deep balls and incredible accuracy, finishing with a completion percentage of 81.25.
“That’s something I really hang my hat on,” Stidham said. “That’s something I really take pride in. I don’t want to throw it up in double- and triple coverage just to try to make a play. I want to throw it to the right guy.”
Stidham threw it to the right guy time and time again Saturday. Seven different receivers caught passes from him. His four explosive passes all went to four different receivers — Stove, Kyle Davis, Will Hastings and Darius Slayton.
He also was precise on his shorter routes as well. He tossed a touchdown pass on a screen to junior Ryan Davis, who finished with six receptions on six targets.
“Everybody’s executing,” Davis said. “When we have the opportunities, we’re making the plays. The first two games, we just weren’t capitalizing, whether it was the receiving running the right routes or whatever the case may have been. We’re just all coming together and doing our job and executing.”
Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham has 12 incompletions over his last three games. Total.
— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) October 1, 2017
The confidence radiated from Auburn’s passing game against Mississippi State, from the receivers to Stidham to the coaching staff. Auburn’s biggest offensive Achilles from a season ago — long passes — has faded away with new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey at the helm.
“You can see the progression,” Malzahn said. “You can see Jarrett get more comfortable, and you can see the balance. … The balance, we talked about that, and that’s what Chip brings us. We had some vertical shots.”
So what’s next for Stidham after his third straight impressive statistical performance? The Texas native still has a notable, and most likely impossible, milestone to chase.
“That’s one of my goals every week — have a perfect completion game,” Stidham said. “Obviously, it doesn’t work out like that, but I try to get it as close as possible.”
Stidham has done that the last several weeks, and it’s been just what this Auburn offense needed.
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