By JOHN ZENORAP Sports Writer
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) – Jarrett Stidham threw two touchdown passes and ran for a score in his debut for No. 12 Auburn in a 41-7 victory over Georgia Southern on Saturday night.
The Tigers used a smothering defense to overcome three turnovers – including a fumble returned for a touchdown – plus an injury to tailback Kerryon Johnson and the absence of top runner Kamryn Pettway. Pettway, wide receiver Kyle Davis and backup quarterback Sean White were held out for undisclosed reasons.
The news got worse when Johnson pulled up short on what appeared destined to be his second long touchdown of the first half. He left with an apparent right hamstring injury and didn’t return after gaining 136 yards with a 60-yard touchdown scamper.
Stidham scored on a 14-yard run and passed for 19-yard touchdowns to Ryan Davis and Will Hastings in the opener for both teams. He finished 14-of-24 passing for 185 yards with an interception in a much-anticipated debut.
The former Baylor quarterback had one rough sequence when a pass was batted and almost intercepted behind the line, a forced throw across the middle was picked off and a fumble was returned for a touchdown. Chris DeLaRosa jarred the ball loose from Stidham with a blind-side hit and linebacker Tomarcio Reese scooped and scored from 22 yards out.
Auburn third-team tailback Kam Martin had a big day, with a 36-yard touchdown and a 61-yard run. He gained 136 yards on 14 carries to match Johnson.
The Tigers outgained Georgia Southern 535-78 in total yards.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN: The Eagles couldn’t muster much of an offense against the Tigers, failing to get points even after recovering a fumble at Auburn’s 34 in the second half. Redshirt freshman quarterback Shai Wertz didn’t get much time to throw or room to run in his first college game. He passed for 8 yards and ran for 16 on 23 carries.
AUBURN: Stidham wasn’t perfect in his first game after being sidelined for 651 days, but the Auburn offense also isn’t as effective without the bulldozing Pettway. A defense that was the strength of last year’s team looked strong again. The Tigers racked up five sacks and 12 tackles for loss and made a fourth-and-goal stop in the final quarter.
The absence of White and Pettway gave chances to both Martin and walk-on quarterback Devin Adams. Adams entered in the fourth quarter instead of freshman Malik Willis, who had a strong spring but may be in line for a redshirt year.
Georgia Southern returns home to face New Hampshire.
Auburn visits defending national champion Clemson, which won last year’s opening matchup 19-13.
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