Auburn, AL- As one might expect, quarterback talk dominates all preseason football discussions and 2017 was no different for the Auburn Tigers. Jarrett Stidham was all the rage from the second he announced his transfer to the Plains from Junior College back in December. Heralded as a messiah for the Tigers football program, Stidham came out on Saturday night to the roaring adulation of 87,451 who put those unfair expectations on him and looked….fine.
It’s okay; really, it is! He looked fine. Not yet an all-time great but certainly not about to hit the bench. The lofty expectations that come with a quarterback in the South are a burden, and he has been able to sidestep this rabid fan base with the expertise of a 10 year NFL veteran. He’s likable, he’s fun, and he’s got a whole lot of potential. He just looked like someone who hasn’t played major college football in almost two years, and that’s okay right now.
14 of 24 for 185 yards probably wasn’t what we all expected (I thought there would be more pass attempts in the new Chip Lindsey offense), but you know what? It more than got the job done this week. 41-7 over a sneaky good Georgia Southern team was more than enough for me for this week. Now next week? Sure, he’ll need to be better, but then again, will need to be better. He even says he needs to be better, “I didn’t think I played all that well. There are a lot of things I’ve got to clean up, but that’s why you play – you’ve got to get better. That’s why you practice. I’ll look at the film and come up with a plan with Coach [Chip] Lindsey and Coach Malzahn, and we’ll get better from it. It’s been a long road for me, but it doesn’t make it an excuse. I have to get a lot better.”
If you’re an Auburn fan, that should be exactly what you want to hear. The desire to get better is what made this coaching staff so excited when he committed in the first place, and everyone has to get better when you have a Saturday night road game against the defending national champions on ESPN. Memorial Stadium in Clemson is going to be rocking, and it’s important that nobody on the team gets caught up in it all. Stidham will have running back Kamryn Pettway and wide receiver Kyle Davis back next week from suspension, but will likely be without Kerryon Johnson, who pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury Saturday night.
The defense, however, was a different story. An absolute display of dominance wire to wire highlighted the game and clearly had all the coaches, including Gus Malzahn, very excited. The final offensive numbers for Georgia Southern’s triple option offense: 78 total yards, including just 8 passing, 0 for 15 on third downs (the number the coaches seemed to like the most). Defensively, Auburn had 12 tackles for loss, five sacks (2 each from Tre Williams and Marlon Davidson, 1 from Jeff Holland), one garbage time interception from Daniel Thomas as time expired (still counts!). Williams led the team overall with ten tackles on the night. The secondary had a relatively laid back night, because the front seven carried the bulk of the work, with defensive coordinator Kevin Steele saying, “It started and ended up front. Those guys did a really nice job of changing the line of scrimmage and creating negative plays”.
You bet they did. Now, a new challenge comes in the form of the Clemson Tigers electrifying offense, who put up 56 on Kent State Saturday afternoon. Television coverage will be on ESPN at 6pm CT. Radio coverage on the Auburn Sports Network begins with the Tiger Tailgate Show at 3pm from Memorial Stadium in Clemson.
Jarrett Stidham was fairly consistently throwing behind everyone, and that needs to change fast. When you face Clemson’s defense, you’ll face a more athletic secondary, and probably have less time to throw in the pocket. It will be important that Stidham stays in the pocket and uses his feet as a means of escape, a la Aaron Rodgers, and not get happy feet and just take off at the first sign of trouble (Johnny Manziel).
All that being said, I would love to see a little more passing from Auburn in week two. The playbook, understandably, looked fairly conservative against Georgia Southern. Auburn will always be a run first team under Gus Malzahn and Chip Lindsey, but a good passing attack will really open the field up and keep the Clemson defense guessing this Saturday. Kyle Davis will be back, and Nate Craig-Myers needs to have some impact on the game as well. I love Will Hastings, but I don’t know if you can rely on someone that size against Clemson to lead your aerial attack.
How will Auburn use a tight end? Sal Canella caught the first completion from Jarrett Stidham at Auburn for a beautiful 19 yard strike to the sidelines. In the past, Auburn has mainly used a tight end as an extra blocker, par for the course on a running offense, but a pass-catching tight end really makes an offense dynamic. Just look at the NFL careers of Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Rob Gronkowski. Another offensive wrinkle might be just what the Tigers need against Clemson.
We really didn’t have a need to talk about the secondary against Georgia Southern, but they are going to play a key role in stopping Clemson this weekend. It will be significantly harder to get to the quarterback for the front seven, and Kelly Bryant is a dynamic, multi-talented quarterback for the Tigers. Clemson almost always has good receivers, and Mike Williams (a first round NFL draft pick this past season) gave the Auburn secondary fits all game last season when Clemson came to Jordan-Hare.
Even though he missed two kicks, please please PLEASE tell your friends and family that Daniel Carlson is still the best kicker in college football, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.