AUBURN, Ala. — It's finally official: Jeremy Johnson will be Auburn's next starting quarterback. In a move that came as no surprise, coach Gus Malzahn announced the decision via Twitter on Monday.
"We just named Jeremy Johnson our starting QB for 2015," Malzahn tweeted. "Everyone in our program has 100 percent confidence in him!"
Johnson had been in a two-way competition to replace Nick Marshall, as he tried to fend off Sean White, who redshirted last season. Despite being considered the favorite to win the job from the moment the Outback Bowl ended, Johnson repeatedly emphasized he didn't view himself as the front-runner. He stuck to that refrain following last Saturday's A-Day game, which saw him throw for 252 yards and two touchdowns in the first half while taking every rep with the first-team offense.
"That ain’t my responsibility to keep up with that," Johnson replied when asked whether he believed he had sealed the starting job. "Like I said, we've got to wait until Coach Malzahn makes that announcement."
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Earlier this spring, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee — who doubles as the Tigers' quarterbacks coach — said the reason he had held off naming a starter was because he hadn't seen either Johnson or White perform up to a level he deemed acceptable.
"I want a quarterback who's going to go win the football game. We're not just there to manage and keep things and, 'Let's see if they make a mistake' or whatever," he said. "We want guys who are going to go win the football game. ... As a quarterback, it matters if a kid runs his route at 9 yards when he's supposed to run it 10 (yards). That's a big difference. If the receiver is just a hair off, that can affect the quarterback statistically or us moving the football down the field."
So until either Johnson or White separated himself from the other, Lashlee was fine delaying the decision until they could provide the answer to a pair of questions.
"Was it a championship effort? Is it going to win us the whole thing?" Lashlee asked. "That's the level we've got to get to. So I'm pleased with where they're at, because they're not getting us beat and they're doing a fine job. But they're not to their potential and where I want them to be."
Johnson has apparently reached that point now. And he does have one thing White doesn't: experience. Johnson is the only quarterback on the roster who has taken a snap in a regular season game. In the past two seasons, the Montgomery, Ala., native has appeared in 13 games. Though the majority of those snaps came in a backup role, Johnson never seemed flustered, as he completed 73.1 percent (57-for-78) of his passes for 858 yards and nine touchdowns.
He's also started two games, which includes last season's opener versus Arkansas. With Marshall serving a suspension for an offseason marijuana citation, Johnson dazzled in the first half. He connected on his first eight attempts and finished 12 of 16 overall for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Barring any unforeseen off-field issue or injury, Johnson is set to become the first Auburn signal-caller to start back-to-back openers since Brandon Cox in 2006-07.
Now that all uncertainty about his status as the starter has been removed, Johnson can begin to look toward the fall, with Auburn opening the season against Louisville in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 5.
"I’m very excited about this year, and I’m pretty sure the rest of the guys are, too," Johnson said. "We’re just coming on as a team and building team chemistry on and off the field."