Resurgent offense propels Auburn into top 10 status
AUBURN, Ala. — The Auburn Tigers have ridden an allaround offensive resurgence into the top 10.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham and tailback Kerryon Johnson have delivered big plays, the young wide receivers have come through more consistently and the offensive line has undergone a shuffling.
With all that complementing a highly rated defense, the 10th-ranked Tigers ride a four-game winning streak into LSU on Saturday.
Coach Gus Malzahn chalks part of that slow start up to a having a new quarterback in Stidham and offensive coordinator in Chip Lindsey.
"Chip was brought in to provide balance and more shots down the field and he's done that," Malzahn said Tuesday. "We've been able to hit some of those explosive pass plays. We've had explosive run plays too. Our tempo has gotten better.
"I think it's more kind of all of the above, everything kind of coming together, being more comfortable, kind of knowing who we are."
There was plenty of cause for concern, if not panic, three games into the season. The Tigers managed just 117 total yards against No. 2 Clemson but also committed five turnovers against Mercer's much less heralded FCS defense the following week.
Auburn has since scored 144 points in its first three Southeastern Conference games. Johnson has run for 11 of his 12 touchdowns in those games to take the national lead after missing the Clemson and Mercer games with a right hamstring injury. Stidham, now the SEC's highest rated starting passer , threw for just 79 yards against Clemson.
"We've come a long way since the first couple of weeks of the season, but we're still looking to improve quite a bit," Stidham said. "I think there's a lot of room to grow all the way around."
Auburn hasn't played a defense anywhere near the caliber of Clemson since that 14-6 loss.
The offense has clearly made strides since then, though. Stidham hasn't been intercepted in the past three games and Johnson has kept the running game going with Kamryn Pettway missing two of them with a lower right leg injury. Malzahn said Pettway would likely practice Tuesday but that they won't play him until he's healthy.
On the line, Auburn moved Austin Golson from center to left tackle the past two games. Casey Dunn, a graduate transfer from Jacksonville State, replaced him at center.
The Tigers allowed 11 sacks against Clemson and only five in the four games since then.
They have also scored on their last 14 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line, including 12 touchdowns.
LSU cornerback Donte Jackson praised Stidham's accuracy but noted that "they didn't go against us yet."
"They have the athletes, even on the outside," Jackson said. "But they also have a great offensive game plan too."
Sustaining the success in the second half of the season is a challenge, since opposing coaches mostly know what the offense does and doesn't do well, Malzahn said.
"This time of year it's about execution," he said. "And it's more about execution right now than any other time because as a coach, whatever you're good at, you want to keep building upon those things.
"Well, other teams know that and they're going to try and stop it and you've got to have an answer when they try to do certain things like that. So really it's more about execution this time of year than it was the first half."
Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham throws a pass against Mississippi State during the first half of a game earlier this season.