Auburn coach Gus Malzahn continues to insist quarterback Jeremy Johnson is capable of being a run threat in the team’s offense.
“He definitely can run,” Malzahn said, during his weekly appearance Monday night on Tiger Talk.
Johnson has shown very few glimpses to back up his coach’s words.
He’s carried the ball nine times for 18 yards this season with a 10-yard run against Louisville accounting for most of that yardage. On Saturday against Jacksonville St., he carried it four times for seven yards.
“The first two games, especially last game, the defensive ends were getting up field, and most of the read game was a give,” Malzahn said. “That was kind of their deal to keep everything in the middle, but there will be times that other teams will take the back instead of him. He can run the football, and he definitely will before the year is out.”
Teams scouting Auburn don’t necessarily agree with Malzahn’s assessment. LSU coach Les Miles said as much when he previewed Saturday matchup between the SEC West rivals for reporters Monday afternoon.
“He's not one of those guys that you're going to dial up 20 runs a game for,” Miles said.
While Miles called Auburn a “formidable offense,” he said Johnson is not “the same Cam Newton style of runner.”
With Nick Marshall at the helm the past two seasons, defenses had to prepare for that same kind of style. Marshall was a threat to break a big run every time he had the ball in his hands.
He only ran for less than 40 yards in four of his 25 career starts. In two seasons as starter, he averaged 5.7 rushing yards per carry, 71.8 yards per game and scored 23 touchdowns.
Malzahn acknowledges the team’s overall production hasn’t been up to those standards to start out 2015, but he is more concerned about the team’s turnovers -- six in two games -- and lack of execution.
He also points to a stable of running backs led by Peyton Barber as being talented enough to carry the ground game.
As solid as Barber’s been through two weeks the early numbers aren’t encouraging. Auburn is averaging less points, total yards, first downs and plays per game than last year.
Auburn and LSU will be the SEC game of the week Saturday on CBS, and it’s only fitting to bring back what the network’s studio analyst Rick Neuheisel said about Johnson running the offense.
“What has to get proven here, is if Jeremy Johnson as the signal caller of this team has the equipment to still have the running game; he’s got to be enough of a run threat in Gus Malzahn’s scheme that they (opposing defenses) have to honor him to give the running game a chance to get started,” Neuheisel said. “If that happens, Auburn is going to be a really, really good.”