AUBURN, Ala. (AP) The long wait is nearly over for Jarrett Stidham.
The Auburn quarterback finally gets to play in a real football game again Saturday when the 12th-ranked Tigers host Georgia Southern. It will end a 651-day drought for Stidham since his last game for Baylor on Nov. 21, 2015.
Now, he's a big factor in Auburn's hopes for a revival of both the passing game and the program's fortunes.
''It's been an extremely long wait,'' Stidham said. It has also been a long wait for Auburn fans who have been yearning for more of a playmaking quarterback since Nick Marshall left in 2014.
Stidham beat out the steady and efficient but injury prone Sean White during fall camp, though many had him penciled into the starting lineup since his arrival in January.
Stidham sat out last fall at a Texas junior college with no football program. He passed for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns at Baylor before his freshman season ended with a broken ankle, and stirred more excitement with a strong spring game performance.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn struck a cautionary note with the expectations facing Stidham so high.
''We've got a good plan for him to bring him along but he's a very talented young man,'' Malzahn said. ''I know he's ready to get out there and see what happens too. I think he's in a real good spot right now. But he's still an inexperienced guy.''
Georgia Southern can relate. Redshirt freshman Shai Werts won the starting job for the Eagles over other inexperienced competitors.
Some other things to watch in the Georgia Southern-Auburn game:
FACING TRIPLE OPTION: Auburn's defense is preparing to face something it won't see in the Southeastern Conference - a triple option attack. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has gone against them before with Georgia Tech when he was at Clemson, and the Tigers had extra time to prepare since it's the first game.
''Would we like to play everybody back to back weeks and only having five days to prepare?'' Georgia Southern coach Tyson Summers said. ''Sure we would. We know what we do is unique in a lot of ways. I do think it's neutralized to some degree. But either way we still think that we're going to be able to come out and have an opportunity to be successful.''
SHAI'S DEBUT: Werts would be the third freshman quarterback to start an opening game for Georgia Southern and first since 1991. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder topped 1,000 yards both running and passing as a high school senior.
KAM & KERRYON: Malzahn believes Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson are two of the league's better tailbacks. They're listed as even on the depth chart. Pettway ran for 1,224 yards in 10 games last season; Johnson produced 895 yards and 11 touchdowns and is a receiving threat out of the backfield.
LINDSEY'S DEBUT: It's Chip Lindsey's first game as offensive coordinator. He'll handle the playcalling duties once held by Malzahn.
AUBURN DEFENSIVE LINE: Steele says first-team defensive end Marlon Davidson could be limited in the game because of a left knee injury sustained in preseason camp. Nick Coe is listed as his backup, and is expected to start, Steele said. The Tigers are replacing NFL draft picks Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson on the line.
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