War Eagle Extra

Auburn names Johnson starting QB for Alabama A&M

Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson warms up before the game against Arkansas St. at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson warms up before the game against Arkansas St. at Jordan-Hare Stadium. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is turning the offense over to Jeremy Johnson for the team’s home finale.

Malzahn announced Johnson would start at quarterback during his weekly Tiger Talk radio show Thursday night.

“I’ll tell you this: he’s extremely excited to start his last home game,” Malzahn said. “He’s had a good week of practice and his teammates are excited for him.”

Auburn’s starting quarterback Sean White didn’t practice for a third straight week. White reaggravated an injury to his throwing shoulder in a 13-7 loss to Georgia.

White admitted he wasn’t honest enough with the coaching staff about “how bad it was really hurting” him during the game.

Malzahn wanted to see White’s health improved this week before making a final decision.

“We’ll play him when he’s healthy,” Malzahn said Tuesday.

It’s a surprising turn for Johnson who spent the season as the team’s No. 3 quarterback. John Franklin III took the majority of second team reps in practice throughout the regular season as White’s backup.

The junior college transfer made multiple appearances in blowout wins this season and even earned his first-career start against Vanderbilt when the coaching staff tried to rest White.

Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee made the decision to go back to White at halftime against the Commodores, but the coaches maintained they were happy with Franklin’s performance.

“I think it was great,” Lashlee said. “I think it was invaluable. He’s starting an SEC game against a really good defense. Really, with the exception of his fumble, I thought he did a lot of good things.”

Malzahn was reluctant to discuss Auburn’s backup plan earlier this week, leading to speculation Franklin might not get the start.

On Thursday night, Malzahn said Franklin will be involved in the gameplan Saturday in some capacity.

“John Franklin will get a chance to do some things,” Malzahn said.

Johnson started seven games last season for Auburn, going 95 of 157 for 1,054 yards with 10 touchdowns to seven interceptions.

The then junior was benched following a 45-21 loss to LSU after throwing six interceptions in the team’s first three games.

A knee injury sidelined White, allowing Johnson to get back into the lineup late in the season. He led Auburn to a 26-10 win on the road over Texas A&M in what was his best game of the season (13 of 17 for 132 yards and a touchdown).

Johnson didn’t start in the Birmingham Bowl but helped Auburn beat Memphis 31-10 scoring a pair of second half touchdowns in a reserve role.

“Coach trusted me and gave me a chance, an opportunity which I knew I had my plays and packages when I was going to come in,” Johnson said. “I cherished my moment and that’s what I did. The line did a great job blocking. It was a fun day today.”

After the game, Johnson vowed to come back and win the starting job in the spring over White and Franklin.

“What quarterbacks?” Johnson said when asked about Franklin. “I’m not worrying about that. All I can do is work on myself. I’m a competitor, and I’m going to compete. I got faith in myself to be the starting quarterback.”

A prolonged quarterback battle spilled deep into fall camp, but Johnson fell to third on the depth chart going into the season-opener against Clemson.

All three quarterbacks rotated in under center in the 19-13 loss, in which Johnson was 4 of 6 for 38 yards with an interception in 20 snaps.

Johnson was at quarterback for 15 consecutive snaps in the first half but was used sparingly after he was sacked on back-to-back plays.

The senior hasn’t played a snap under center since the opening week.

“Obviously it’s been tough the last two years on him,” Malzahn said earlier this week. “I think everybody knows that. He’s handled himself well, been there for his teammates trying to help us any way he can.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra