Jarrett Stidham hadn’t played football for 22 months before last week’s 41-7 win over Georgia Southern. John Reed/USA TODAY Sports
He’s also one of Auburn’s hardest workers and a film-room junkie and endeared himself to his teammates when he arrived on the Plains with the way he connected with everybody. “He reminds me of Peyton (Manning) with his demeanor, the way he carries himself and the way he transcends all barriers. He fits in with everybody and can relate to guys from all races, cultures and backgrounds,” said Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner, who was on Tennessee’s staff during Manning’s last two years in 1996 and 1997. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn added, “He’s such a great leader, and his teammates trust him. He’s got that ‘it’ factor that attracts people.” Stidham counters that it’s more the “Stephenville, Texas” factor.
“Where I come from, Stephenville, Texas, we know how to work one way, and that’s hard,” Stidham said. “Even back in high school, it was like that, and I had that same mentality coming in here. I had to show these guys, not talk about it.”
The stakes for both Stidham and Bryant go up considerably this week, as both face defenses that should be among the best they face all season. There’s genuine respect on both sides.
Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and Stidham were teammates in the 2015 Under Armour All-America Game.
“I got an up-close look at him and just remember thinking he was one of the two best quarterbacks out there, for sure,” Wilkins said. “He has a really good arm, is a great passer of the football and is a lot more athletic than people give him credit for.
“They will be ready to bring it against Clemson and ready to open things up and come after us.”
Steele, who was the defensive coordinator at Clemson from 2009 to 2011 under Swinney, was especially impressed with Bryant’s poise and how the moment didn’t look too big for him in his first career start.
“He sure didn’t look rattled, and it looked like he’d been doing it for a couple of years,” Steele said. “We’ve got to find a way to make him uncomfortable, which isn’t easy to do with a guy that can do everything he can and all the people they have around him.”
Even though both are beginners when it comes to starting on the college level, Bryant and Stidham both have their pregame rituals down pat. Bryant simply likes “to chill.” Stidham prefers to watch old 1980s and ’90s movie cult classics, many of them for the first time. He took in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” last week.
“I’d never seen Spicoli, but I’m a big fan now,” Stidham joked.
No bigger, though, than the Auburn and Clemson fans will be of Stidham and Bryant if they can help deliver more hardware to a pair of schools who’ve either won or played for four of the past seven national championships.