Auburn football: Yes, it’s important that Tigers have returning Jarrett Stidham back at QB

It may not be the deciding factor, but having Jarrett Stidham back at quarterback certainly helps Auburn in its Week 1 game. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
It may not be the deciding factor, but having Jarrett Stidham back at quarterback certainly helps Auburn in its Week 1 game. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

One recurring theme you’ve read about here and heard discussed is whether or not the Auburn football team can avoid the slow starts on offense that have plagued the Tigers over the years.

This season, Auburn has Jarrett Stidham on its side to help overcome that sluggish start.

“I think there’s a lot of different factors with that,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “Obviously, when you have a returning starting quarterback definitely helps.”

But Stidham isn’t just your run-of-the-mill returning starter at quarterback. Last season, he became just the second quarterback in Auburn football history to throw for 3,000 yards when he totaled 3,158 yards with 16 touchdown passes.

That makes him the first 3,000-yard passer in school history to return for the next season.

This marks just the second time during Malzahn’s tenure as head coach that he’s had his starting quarterback return. That came in 2014 with Nick Marshall, although Marshall was suspended the first half of the season opener against Arkansas.

Still, Auburn turned in one of its best offensive performances of the season that day in beating Arkansas, 45-21, while totaling 595 yards (302 on the ground, 293 in the air).

Must Read. Auburn's Week 1 offenses have been all over under Malzahn. light

The change from the start of last season to the start of this one for Auburn football is significant:

  • Stidham arrived on campus in time for spring practice last season and that was beneficial in getting to know the offense and his teammates. But Sean White also was on campus and in the mix for playing time. This time, Stidham has been the guy and has a season, two spring camps, two summers and two fall camps to build relationships.
  • Malzahn hired Chip Lindsey as offensive coordinator in January 2017. Malzahn handed over play-calling duties to Lindsey. Now that Lindsey has a season under his belt and a year with his starting quarterback, the Tigers should step onto the field Saturday well ahead of where they were a season ago.

“We are playing one of the better teams in college football and we have our quarterback back,” Malzahn said. “I think the fact the quarterback is back gives us a comfort, and we know what we are getting, at least at that position.”

That’s a huge comfort. Especially when you look at the quarterback situation each season under Malzahn.

2013: In Malzahn’s first season, he brought in former Georgia defensive back Nick Marshall in to play QB. Marshall spent the previous season re-learning the position in junior college. So it was very much a mystery what Auburn was getting in Marshall. Of course, it was a great season, Auburn finished 12-2 and reached the BCS title game. Marshall ran for 1,068 yards and threw for 1,976. It was a huge lift over 2012 when Auburn’s three-headed QB monster of Kiehl Frazier, Jonathan Wallace and Clint Moselely truly was terrifying.

2014: Marshall was back for his final season.

2015: Jeremy Johnson was unable to lock down the job all year and Sean White ended up starting five games. Both threw for just more than 1,000 yards and combined to throw 11 TD passes and 11 interceptions.

2016: Johnson and White returned. White started 10 games and threw for 1,679 yards but battled injuries throughout the season. Johnson saw limited playing time.

2017: Technically, Malzahn had his starter back on the roster in White. But most people expected Stidham to win the starting job. The two competed but White was dismissed from the team after being arrested and charged with public intoxication. He just finished serving a two-game suspension to begin the season.

2018: Stidham returns, along with backup QB Malik Willis.

Malzahn added that a quick start on offense Saturday goes deeper than having a familiar face at quarterback.

Next. What we learned from Auburn's depth chart. dark

“A lot of it has to do with opponents, too,” he said. “When you are playing a really solid opponent sometimes your deficiencies can be recognized early. From a coach’s standpoint, there’s always some questions that we have going into the first game — how are people going to respond, especially if they are new people, new starters or freshmen. You feel pretty good about how you think they are going to react, but you don’t know until you go out there. I think there’s a lot of factors that go into that.”

At least quarterback isn’t one of them.