AUBURN, Ala. — Jeremy Johnson easily could have been the offensive MVP of Saturday's A-Day game. In one half of work, the rising junior quarterback threw for 252 yards and two touchdowns and completed 63.4 percent (14-for-22) of his passes. But that effort wasn't enough for him to bring home the award — that went to redshirt freshman receiver Myron Burton, who had a breakout performance.
While Johnson's numbers didn't lead to individual glory Saturday, it was more than enough to help him spearhead Team Auburn to a 24-14 victory against Team Tigers in the annual spring affair.
But afterward, his demeanor didn't reflect someone who was pleased with what he had done.
"I played OK. I didn't perform to my best that I thought I should've performed," he said. "But I did OK. It was just really about giving our receivers a chance and letting them make plays down the field."
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And it was the chances that he missed that stuck with him. There were multiple opportunities where he had his top target, D'haquille "Duke" Williams, in one-on-one coverage with his defender. And more than once, Johnson misfired.
"It was just underthrowing him and those are the plays that we've got to make if we want to be successful this season," Johnson said. "But we’re going to get those corrected on film. We also had a little protection breakdown, but we’re going to get better."
It's not as if Johnson and Williams were never on the same page Saturday. The pair hooked up on a pair of passes, including a 36-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter that pushed Team Auburn's lead to 17-0.
"I saw (the defender) was playing like at least five, maybe seven yards back and I just spun him up a little bit and then I just stuck it," said Williams, describing, in technical route-running terms, how the play unfolded through his eyes. "When I stuck it at the top, I got outside release. The ball was in the air, so I had to go high-point it and attack it."
But on this day, Williams' exploits took a backseat to another receiver: Burton. The Georgia native, who saw time with both teams Saturday, combined to make seven catches for 124 yards and a touchdown.
"It was a dream come true. It was amazing," Burton said. "It was the first time being able to play because last year I redshirted. It was a great feeling."
Roc Thomas got things started on a high note for Team Auburn, as the rising sophomore running back made multiple defenders miss on his way to a 36-yard score at the 9:04 mark of the first quarter. Team Auburn's next drive didn't end with them crossing the goal line. But kicker Daniel Carlson made sure they didn't come up empty, as he booted a 50-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0 with 3:43 to go in the opening period.
Thomas also scored the final points of the first half; this time, however, he was representing Team Tigers. Following a fantastic catch by Burton, Thomas wasted no time punching it into the end zone, scoring from three yards out on the next play.
With a running clock in the second half, only one more touchdown was had: early enrollee quarterback Tyler Queen hit Jimmie Stoudemire on a 36-yard score.
So while the offenses had its share highlights, it was the Tigers' defense that Gus Malzahn lauded in his postgame press conference.
"They were playing hard," he said of new coordinator Will Muschamp's unit. "What is this? This is the lowest scoring spring game that we've had. There were so many punts. I thought they did some really good things."
The team will hold one more practice Monday to bring its spring to a close. No, the Tigers aren't perfect. And Malzahn readily acknowledged there are "all kinds of things" they need to improve upon heading into the fall.
The good news, Malzahn said, is that he and his coaching know exactly what areas they need to hit the hardest.
"We're fairly inexperienced. We're definitely going to have some freshmen who are going to be a part," he said. " We'll have a chance to get better each game. I think this team will have a chance to improve throughout the year."