Auburn was still searching for an identity on offense when it hosted Clemson in last year’s season opener.
Three quarterbacks saw action for Auburn in the 19-13 loss and none had much success.
As it turned out, the game against Clemson was a preview for the rest of Auburn’s season. Sean White received the majority of the action, with Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin also getting playing time.
Against Clemson, the trio combined for 175 passing yards. For the season, Auburn averaged less than 170 passing yards per game, good for No. 112 nationally.
Enter Jarrett Stidham.
The former Baylor quarterback and five-star recruit earned Auburn’s starting quarterback job by performing well in preseason camp, and he brings a different dimension to the Auburn offense.
Stidham passed for 1,265 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions while completing nearly 69 percent of his passes as a freshman at Baylor in 2015. In Auburn’s opener against Georgia Southern, he threw for 185 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 24 pass attempts.
“That quarterback they have now is a guy that can really sling it around and make throws in the passing game as opposed to last year, where it wasn’t as much of a big thing,” Clemson cornerback Ryan Carter said.
The addition of Stidham should give Auburn more balance on offense. While Auburn struggled passing the ball in 2016, it was sixth in the nation in rushing.
“The quarterback throws the ball very well. They do a good job. They can spread you out and pound you, spread you out and throw the ball vertically. They’ve got excellent skill, receivers and running backs and tight ends and a veteran offensive line, very physical,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “They do a great job with how they game-plan and how they’ve recruited. We’ve got a great challenge in front of us.”
Stidham is also capable of hurting defenses with his legs. He had a 14-yard touchdown run against Georgia Southern and had a pair of touchdown runs and 70 yards on the ground during his one season at Baylor.
“I got to see him up close and personal a little bit in high school at the Under Armour game, and I thought he was a really good, talented player then and he’s only improved since then,” Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins said. “I definitely knew he could move. He’s pretty athletic. Although he doesn’t run all the time, you can definitely tell he has a lot of athleticism. He’s fast, he can move.”
Another challenge for Clemson’s defense is the fact that Auburn has a new offensive coordinator in Chip Lindsey.
Lindsey was an offensive analyst at Auburn in 2013 and returned there after serving as the offensive coordinator at Arizona State last season.
Venables expects Auburn’s offense to look similar to how it has been in years past under Gus Malzahn but with a few new wrinkles.
“Coach Lindsey’s background is the state of Alabama and he was at Auburn and then he’s branched out a little bit. He’s had great success at both Southern Miss and Arizona State,” Venables said. “Why wouldn’t you do the same types of things scheme-wise and formationally and all those things? His foundation looks to have an Auburn flavor, but he’s put his own spin on it as well.”
The fact that Auburn easily handled Georgia Southern 41-7 last week doesn’t give Clemson a ton of film to work with.
Venables and Clemson’s coaching staff have watched Stidham’s tape from Baylor and some film from Lindsey’s past stops as well as they prepare for the top 15 matchup.
“They played pretty conservative there in the second half,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “You don’t have a lot of video evidence right now, so it’s almost like an opener all over again in that there’s going to be some unknowns… And same for them. They probably don’t know a whole lot, either, based on our first game. So it’s almost like another opener. There will be some newness, some wrinkles, some things you’ll have to make adjustments to and get settled in and really figure out what their plans are going to be.”