AUBURN, Ala. – Darius Slayton was sprinting downfield without a Mississippi State defender in the vicinity.
But on a trick play that otherwise worked to perfection, No. 21 Auburn’s quarterback Jarrett Stidham badly overthrew his streaking wide receiver.
It’s been that kind of year for Stidham, who has struggled at times this season and knows it.
“I’ve got to make a throw,” he said Tuesday. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made that throw in practice. And for whatever reason, I just didn’t make it.
“Whether it’s focusing more, or whatever it needs to be, I’ve got to make those throws and that’s what it comes down to.”
The Tigers head into Saturday’s game with Tennessee ranked 11th in the Southeastern Conference in scoring offense and 13th in total yards.
Auburn’s offense has sputtered for a variety of reasons, including in that 23-9 loss to the Bulldogs. The offensive line has struggled . The running game hasn’t been consistent.
And Stidham hasn’t been able to duplicate his second-team All-Southeastern Conference play from last season.
If there’s plenty of blame to go around, Stidham isn’t shying away from taking his share.
“I’m the one with the ball in my hands every play,” he said. “And I’ve got to play a lot better. I think that’s first and foremost. For our offense to be as successful as it’s going to be, I’ve got play a lot better. And I know that, and I’m working as hard as I can to improve every week.”
Even a top 10 defense hasn’t been able to compensate for the struggles of Stidham and the offense.
The Tigers dropped 13 spots in the rankings with the loss to the Bulldogs and most likely fell from SEC West contention . Stidham was 19-of-38 passing for 214 yards in that game and only has three touchdown passes in the past four.
“He’s pretty tough on himself,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “If you ask him, he’d be pretty frustrated too. It’s all of the above. It’s everything that goes with it.
“It’s not just one thing. He’s a good quarterback and I really expect him and the offense to get better in the second half” of the season.
Stidham’s numbers have plummeted pretty much across the board from his debut season at Auburn.
- He’s 74th in passing yards per game after throwing for the second-highest single-season yardage total in Auburn, 3,158.
- His completion percentage has dropped from 66.5 percent and Top 10 nationally to 60.1 percent, 76th-best.
- He was 19th in pass efficiency last season and is 86th at the midpoint this year.
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt faced Stidham last season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator and pointed out that he’s playing behind an inexperienced line. Stidham led the Tigers to the upset in that game against the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
“This guy’s got great arm talent,” Pruitt said. “He has understanding of what he does, what they want him to do offensively. He’s got good guys around him. He can make all the throws.
“He can hurt you with his feet. I think he’s a tremendous quarterback and it definitely will be a huge challenge for us.”
Stidham said he mostly avoids social media and the criticism it contains.
Wide receiver Ryan Davis said he has the team’s full support.
“I’m behind Jarrett 100 percent,” Davis said. “Everybody else is behind Jarrett 100 percent.”
Malzahn opened his Tuesday news conference by acknowledging the frustration of fans, players and coaches. He didn’t name Stidham directly but easily could have.
“No one needs to be blaming our players,” he said. “Any time a team is not playing at its potential, it’s a coaching issue. That’s my responsibility.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
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