ATLANTA – It’s good to be Jarrett Stidham these days.
Auburn’s quarterback has all three of his starting wide receivers and his tight end from a year ago. He’s helming a top-25 team that doesn’t have the pressure of being a conference or divisional favorite.
“He is recently graduated and he has recently got engaged,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “So he’s got a lot going on, ready for this season.”
He returned to the Elite 11 camp as a counselor there, four years after he participated in the camp as a prospect. He spent part of his summer as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy. Stidham isn’t facing a battle for his job this fall. He could also find himself as a top draft pick after the season.
Stidham completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 3,158 yards last season with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions, running for four more touchdowns. Even more will be expected this fall.
“From a quarterback standpoint, in this league, experience, there’s nothing like it,” Malzahn said. “Because the defenses are different than other leagues, and I just really like the way he handled himself. He’s a very tough young man, mentally and physically. And I think our offense is in very good hands going into this second year.”
The learning started early for Stidham. He started a handful of games at Baylor in 2015 before transferring to junior college, then to Auburn. His first test with the Tigers came in just the second week, when he was sacked 11 times in a 14-6 loss at Clemson.
“I’m glad Clemson happened,” he said. “I’m glad I got sacked 11 times because that’s never going to happen to me again, I promise you that. It was good; I learned a lot. I like to look at things, whether if it’s Clemson, LSU, SEC Championship (Game), bowl game, there’s a lot of things you can learn from and I learned a lot from the Clemson game”
He’s hoping to put some of that knowledge to work this season. Among other things, Malzahn said Stidham will have more freedom to make changes at the line of scrimmage without checking with coaches.
Stidham felt good about his ability to make those calls for most of last season, but still had to wait for the sideline to send the signals in. Auburn will cut out the middleman now.
“I can remember LSU, we kept calling one play and we kept looking for a specific coverage,” Stidham said. “Every time they were not in that coverage, I knew exactly what we were going to check to. I think it’ll speed up the process. That’s how we like to play.”
Nick Marshall is the only other quarterback during Gus Malzahn’s tenure to return after starting an entire season. Marshall saw his completion percentage, passing attempts, yards per game and quarterback rating all improve in his second season.
A similar trend would make things even better for Stidham.
“I really do believe we’re going to be just as good, if not better,” he said.
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.