It’s been more than 500 days since Jarrett Stidham last played in a stadium full of fans. Saturday’s spring game at Auburn won’t resemble the raucous atmosphere Stidham faced in 2015 as Baylor's quarterback on the road at Oklahoma State -- it’s a glorified scrimmage -- but it’s the closest thing to a game the sophomore will see before the season opener.
Stidham is not alone, either. If anything, he has a leg up on the other two quarterbacks who will be vying for the starting job on Saturday.
Freshmen Woody Barrett and Malik Willis have never played in front of a crowd at the college level. Sure, Barrett was on the team last season, but he redshirted, watching every game from the sideline. As for Willis, he was supposed to go to prom last month. This week, had he not graduated early, he’d be on spring break with the rest of the senior class at Roswell (Georgia) High School.
Instead, all three players will make their debuts in front of Auburn fans.
“I think the biggest thing for the quarterbacks, from my standpoint, will be playing in front of a crowd and going through the pregame routine of the timing and everything that goes on,” said Chip Lindsey, first-year Auburn offensive coordinator, to reporters on Thursday.
“There will be a little more juice about them playing in front of a crowd, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to really try to focus on the things that we’ve already done and see who can execute our base plays that we’ve been running, who leads our team and who affects the other 10 guys the best. I think that’s what really what I’m looking for.”
The veteran of the quarterback room is Sean White. He’s the only one who has played a meaningful game inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. But the junior won’t play on Saturday because he’s still recovering from a broken arm suffered in the Sugar Bowl, and the coaches want to be cautious with him.
Lindsey did say on Thursday that White is no longer on a pitch count during practice, and that's good news for the guy who started 10 games last season.
Still, White’s injury presents Stidham with a golden opportunity. He’s already taken the bulk of the reps with the first-team offense this spring. He’s said he came to Auburn to be the starting quarterback. Now he has a chance to back up the talk. Saturday, he has a chance to show everybody just how talented he really is. And if you don’t think Stidham will be ready for that challenge, then you don’t know him too well.
“I’m a big competitor really in anything,” Stidham said earlier this spring. “I was playing pool basketball with [Tigers fullback] Chandler [Cox] and two of our other buddies. With anything, I’m going to compete. It’s kind of the nature of who I am.”
The only thing holding Stidham back on Saturday might be his head coach. Does Gus Malzahn want to show off his new toy and let Stidham air it out, as he did with Nick Marshall in Auburn's 2014 spring game? Or does Malzahn want to hold Stidham back for the season by keeping the playbook more vanilla, as he did in 2016?
It’s important to note that this is also Lindsey’s debut as Auburn's offensive coordinator. He, too, wants to make a good impression on the fan base, and that means a better showing on offense than what the Tigers put on the field in last year’s spring game. One-for-22 on third down won't cut it.
The fans want to see explosive plays. They want to see touchdowns. And more than anything, they want to see Stidham unleashed in his Auburn debut.