This time last year, Jarrett Stidham was sitting on his girlfriend’s couch in Houston watching the Iron Bowl. On Saturday, he was the game’s clutch quarterback.
Stidham came up clutch — particularly in the second half — to help No. 6 Auburn upend No. 1 Alabama 26-14. Stidham did the job with his arm and his legs, throwing for 237 yards while rushing for 51 yards and a touchdown.
“Jarrett was very efficient tonight. He was under duress sometimes because they’ve got some very good pass rushers,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “You get to a point in the season, and you do whatever you’ve got to do to win a game. If we had to run him, we were going to run him. When he runs just enough, it really opens things up.”
Malzahn spoke of Stidham’s growth in his first season at Auburn, and one of the more noticeable areas of improvement Saturday was his pocket presence. The Crimson Tide came after him several times, and more often than not Stidham made the correct move to keep the play alive.
Stidham not only stayed out of harm’s way, but he burnt the Crimson Tide defense a time or two with his scrambling ability. No run was more important than his longest of the game, a 16-yard scramble to the end zone with 12:49 to go in the fourth quarter.
The score gave Auburn a two-possession lead, one it would maintain for the remainder of the game.
“Honestly, I just saw a lot of space,” Stidham said of his rushing touchdown. “I pulled it and tried to make a play. It somehow worked out for me.”
Stidham was honest in explaining how far he’s come with the team since the Sept. 9 loss to Clemson, a game in which Stidham was sacked 11 times. He stressed how much more comfortable he is within the offense, adding that he and his teammates have grown a lot since that time.
Malzahn has certainly taken notice of how his quarterback has stepped up his play.
“He’s a tough guy, there’s no doubt,” Malzahn said. “He’s a real competitor, and he throws the ball as well as anybody. I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Stidham said the conclusion of Saturday’s game was the first time he had ever been part of a crowd rushing the field. Through the chaos, he found his girlfriend and his family at a predetermined spot, giving Stidham a chance to celebrate with those who supported him when his future was unclear.
Stidham has come quite a long way since he was only a spectator to the Iron Bowl’s splendor, and if he can continue playing like he did against the Crimson Tide, he and the Tigers have a chance to go far.
“I think we’re pretty darn good,” Stidham said. “Coach Malzahn said beating two No. 1 teams in three weeks has never been done. I think this team’s looking pretty good.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports