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loss 'brought out the best' in Stidham

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How Auburn's loss to Clemson 'brought out the best' in Jarrett Stidham


Jarrett Stidham didn't show it while speaking to the media in the bowels of Memorial Stadium last month, but the Auburn quarterback was getting in his own head after his team's 14-6 loss to defending national champion Clemson.

It was the worst offensive performance ever by a Gus Malzahn-led team, and Stidham was sacked 11 times as Auburn sputtered to its lone loss of the season. Stidham met with the media afterward and was calm and collected throughout his postgame availability, placing plenty of the blame on his own shoulders after a 79-yard passing performance instead of his teammates'. H-back Chandler Cox saw a different side of Stidham after that game.

"That Clemson game, I went to go talk to him, he was hanging his head," Cox said, "but I told him to stay strong and move on. It's one football game."

Indeed, it was just one game, albeit it a big one. The loss still stings for Auburn, even more than a month later. The players and coaches realize it was a missed opportunity to make an early-season statement -- a win in a brutal road environment against the nation's No. 2 team and the defending national champion.

Stidham didn't dwell on the loss, instead heeding the words of his roommate and closest friend in Auburn. The two talk often in their dorm room -- about games, situations, life. That night, the two spoke about what went wrong in Death Valley, and what each of them could've done better.

It was a seminal moment for Stidham as he reflected on that game.

"You learn a lot about yourself when things kind of get rough," Stidham said. "I know I've been through some rough patches in my life, and I learned a lot about myself through those. Football's kind of the same way. You just learn from it, you try to grow from it, you try to improve for next week."

For Stidham, that included being more decisive with the ball in his hands, not holding onto to it for too long and knowing when to throw it away if the play isn't there. That was one of his biggest issues early in the season as he knocked off the rust from not playing in an actual game in nearly two years.

Since that night, however, Stidham has looked like a different quarterback. He has looked more poised in the pocket, more decisive and more accurate.

He has looked as advertised.

"His whole game (has improved)," receiver Ryan Davis said. "Just getting back into playing football, a lot of football. Just the small things. Just trusting the pocket, just staying in the pocket. I'd say probably that one the most. Just staying in the pocket, just trusting the offensive line and trusting they're going to protect him. He's just able to stay in there and be confident and be able to play football and just throw the ball around and hand the ball off and execute."

Along with better awareness and decision-making, Stidham has grown more comfortable both within Chip Lindsey's offense and with his receivers, building a better rapport for the young group and getting timing down pat.

The biggest improvements, Stidham said, have been in his comfort level and just overall execution. It has resulted in what Cox described as a "quiet confidence" about him, while safety Tray Matthews has noticed "smiles on his face all the time."

Over the last four games, Stidham has been on a tear. He has completed 72-of-91 passes (79.1 percent) for 1,081 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. In SEC play, he's completing 74.1 percent of his passes for 717 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions -- ranking first in completion percentage and passer rating (216.16) while ranking third in yards and touchdowns.

He also leads the league with a 79.5 percent completion rate and 230.29 passer rating on first downs.

Now he'll look to lead Auburn into the other Death Valley with another opportunity for a statement game -- this time in a stadium that the program hasn't won at since 1999.

"I think any time you go through adversity, it either brings out the best in you or the worst in you, and I think it just brought out the best in him," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "Sometimes you have to go through experiences.... You can tell he's getting better. He's getting more comfortable and more confidence. He's playing at a high level and we've just got to keep building upon that."

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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Needs to keep improving in the pocket. He still has a tendency to bail instead of stepping up in front of the outside rush. He's been improving week to week, though. That's what you want to see. He was pretty darn good to start with. 

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Maybe....but it did light a fire under the OL coach. 11 sacks probably had more to do with poor QB play than not progressing from fall practice. All of a sudden there was a sense of urgency in the offensive coaching staff. The OL (along with QB) have made tremendous progress. WR's are not dropping passes nowadays either.

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Not having to run Gus' offense will do wonders for any true quarterback.  Instead of doing a bunch of gimmick crap he can actually get his eyes down field and find his receivers.

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