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Lack of uncertainty at quarterback setting up Auburn offense, starter Jeremy Johnson for success

Michael Niziolek


Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

The lengthy list of SEC teams all came into training camp with competition at quarterback. With only four days until kickoff, some of those teams still haven’t landed on a starter.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is happy the Tigers weren’t part of that group.

The Tigers released their depth chart Tuesday for the season opener with junior Jeremy Johnson’s status as the team’s No. 1 quarterback a given since the end of spring practice. 

“It has been good that we've known who our starting quarterback is going to be since spring,” Malzahn said. “I think it's been good for him, too, and for his teammates. We feel like he's prepared. I know he's to the point, he's tired of everybody talking about him, predicting this. He just wants to get out there and play. He wants to prove himself. I think he's in a very good spot mentally right now going into this first game.”

Johnson helped create those expectations by giving fans tantalizing glimpses of his talent the past two seasons backing up Nick Marshall.

He’s appeared in 13 games, making two starts, and has thrown for 858 yards on 73 percent passing with nine touchdowns. 

Auburn beat Arkansas 45-21 in last year’s season-opener with Johnson filling in for Marshall. He orchestrated an eight-play, 75-yard drive on the Tigers' opening drive, and capped it off with a 49-yard touchdown pass to Melvin Ray.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder’s steady performance throughout the offense has helped the coaching staff evaluate players at positions where they did have holes to fill, and establish an early chemistry with the group of returning starters.

Johnson will face challenges throughout the season as the team's starter, but Malzahn expects him to deal with those head-on.

“He's played, but there's nothing like it being your team and you're going to start for the whole season mentality, Malzahn said. “We'll just see how it goes, but I like where's he's at.”

Those challenges will include being the Tigers’ signal caller in high-pressure situations at the end of games. 

Johnson talked about how the team has emphasized those two-minute scenarios in practice the last couple of weeks, and promised to do what he can to “find a way to win.”

He recalled losing to Opelika High School in the 2012 state semifinals when he threw an interception in the end zone on a play that would have given Carver-Montgomery a lead in the final minutes. The 35-21 loss is something that still haunts him.

“I think about it a lot,” Johnson said. “Like I said, the Opelika game was an experience that I learned from. If I could go back in that situation I know I’d throw the ball away, but coach put the ball in his best player’s hands and I made a mistake. I won’t make that same mistake again.”

While Johnson has done his best to ignore most of the preseason hype – “I don't really get caught up in it,” -- he is eager for the season to start.

“I feel really good about where I’m at and where this team’s at and like I said, I’m just ready to play Saturday and just give everybody what they’ve been waiting on,” Johnson said.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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