Why Auburn’s Playoff Hopes rest on Jarrett Stidham’s Arm

It’s rivalry week in college football, and the most compelling game it features is the Iron Bowl between top-ranked Alabama and number six Auburn. Alabama is the likely favorite for a plethora of good reasons, but this game will be taking place on Auburn’s campus, where they have not lost the entire season. At 9-2, they have a shot – if they upset Alabama and proceed to beat Georgia again in the SEC title game – to shock college football and make the Playoff as SEC Champions. In order to do that, their hopes rest on the back of one young man: QB Jarrett Stidham.

Stidham, at 6’3” and 214 LBs, recently transferred from Baylor following the scandal that took place under Art Briles’s staff. He’s always had an excellent arm, and that has gone on to help Auburn’s offense reach a new level this year. On the season, he’s thrown for 2,445 yards with 16 TDs to just 4 INTs; at home, he’s accounted for almost 1,500 of those yards to go along with 11 TDs and 3 INTs. Even though the majority of his interceptions have come at home, it’s obvious he plays better in a friendly environment. That he plays better at home is very good news for Auburn, because this is the toughest test he’s had the entire season.

On the year, Stidham has thrown for over 200 yards in all but two contests: the game at Clemson (13-24 passing for 79 yards), and at LSU (9-26 for 165). Ironically enough, those were the two games that Auburn managed to lose this season, although both were by single-digits. I’m not suggesting that if Stidham passes for 200+ yards, Auburn is guaranteed to win this week; Alabama has an elite defense with NFL talent at all three levels, and they’re the best coached team in the entire country. However, it’s clear their chances at victory skyrocket when their QB goes out and plays well.

Stidham has done well against some of the more notable teams they’ve played at home. Against Georgia, he went 16-23 for 214 passing yards and 3 TDs with no interceptions; against Mississippi State, he was 13-16 for 264 yards and 2 scores. They beat Georgia, who’s currently seventh in the Playoff rankings, by 23, and Mississippi State, who’s 14th, by 39. Stidham has had a knack for stepping up in big moments when the crown has been behind him, and with this being the biggest game of his career, he’s going to need them more than ever.

There’s one particular matchup that will separate the impact Stidham will need to have upon this game: Kerryon Johnson vs. Alabama’s run defense. Auburn’s RB has been a monster all year, but the Tide come in with one of the top run defenses in the country, as they allow the second least rushing yards/game at 87.4. If Johnson wins out, Stidham will likely only need to play game manager to help get his team the victory. If the Tide’s defense wins that battle, Stidham is going to have to willingly attack Minkah Fitzpatrick and company with precision throws and a mistake-free game – something that is much easier said than done.

When Stidham transferred to Auburn, he went to a school that had a chance to perennially compete for SEC supremacy and challenge Alabama for the right to represent the SEC West in the conference’s Championship game. Now, he has a chance to make his mark on not only the school, but the entire country, and especially the CFP committee. After all, his play will determine whether they have to let a 2-loss Auburn team into the Playoff, or can shove them aside if they lose another game. No pressure, though…

All stats and info courtesy ESPN.

Cover photo courtesy cloudinary.com.

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