Georgia Auburn

Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham looks on the field before Saturday's game against Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn. Stidham threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score in the Tigers' 40-17 victory over the Bulldogs. [BRYNN ANDERSON/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]

Brynn Anderson

Auburn had a pretty good rushing performance against Georgia in 2015, when Jovon Robinson and Peyton Barber combined to carry 25 times for 165 yards. It received a standout effort from the defense in 2016, when it held the Bulldogs without a touchdown on offense.

What the Tigers didn’t have in either of those losses, though, was a quarterback like Jarrett Stidham. They had him Saturday, and it made all the difference in a 40-17 rout of No. 1 Georgia.

Stidham completed 16 of 23 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns, and he added a 7-yard rushing score. That gave him a hand in all four of the Tigers’ touchdowns as they snapped a three-game losing streak in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.

In the last two meetings with Georgia prior to Saturday, Auburn quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson and Sean White combined to complete 20 of 42 passes for 88 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions.

“Jarrett played great,” head coach Gus Malzahn said. “We had some trouble at first protecting the first couple of drives, and then things settled down. We were able to run the football and mix it up a little bit. I’m really proud of Jarrett.”

Stidham was by no means the sole reason Auburn beat Georgia on Saturday. Kerryon Johnson added to a resume that Malzahn believes is becoming Heisman-worthy, totaling 233 scrimmage yards and a touchdown. The defense was at its best, holding a high-scoring Bulldog offense to just 230 yards and 17 points.

But there might not have been a better example of what Stidham has meant to Auburn’s offensive success this season than Saturday’s game. He brings an element that the Tigers have not had in either of the past two seasons, especially against Georgia.

Look no further than the quarterback’s first two touchdown passes.

Stidham’s first was a 42-yard strike to Darius Slayton late in the first half that extended Auburn’s lead to 16-7. He pump-faked a quick screen to Ryan Davis, and when the deep safety followed Eli Stove as he ran a deep post route out of the slot, Stidham dropped a perfectly placed ball into the hands of Slayton, who was running the same route behind Stove.

That was the 15th of 16 passing plays of 40 or more yards the Tigers have thrown this season. Auburn had just 18 such plays in 2015 and 2016 combined.

“That was kind of when I settled in,” Stidham said. “I felt like that was a really big momentum play for us. After that, everything really just started clicking. We were kind of doing whatever we wanted to do offensively.”

Stidham’s second passing touchdown was an impressive individual effort from Davis, who caught a screen pass and weaved 32 yards through Georgia’s defense for the score. But the credit for seeing the opening goes to Stidham, who made the right read on the run-pass option and took the ball out of the chest of Johnson before getting the ball quickly to his receiver.

In between those two plays, Stidham kept the ball on the read option and rushed 7 yards for a touchdown. It was a play the quarterback said Malzahn told him would be there before the game, and it was.

If those three touchdowns weren’t enough, Stidham was able to add a fourth for good measure when Johnson made a catch on a well-executed throwback screen and ran 55 yards untouched for a score in the fourth quarter. 

Stidham is now just 33 yards away from moving into the program’s all-time top 10 for passing yards in a season. After Saturday, the sophomore has completed 67.1 percent of his passes (first in the SEC) for 2,210 yards (fourth) and 14 touchdowns (fifth).

“Every week, I really feel like I’ve made some strides,” Stidham said. “I obviously have a long way to go, but that’s why you practice and why you play.”