Jeremy Johnson played like a different quarterback Saturday night at Kyle Field than the one fans last saw in September.
The junior went 13 of 17 for 132 yards with a touchdown leading Auburn to a 26-10 win over Texas A&M in place of an injured Sean White.
In speaking to the media for the first time since losing the starting job, Johnson admitted the weight of high expectations for then No. 6 Auburn took a toll on him.
“They wasn’t my expectations, it was the people’s outside expectations,” Johnson said. “I had my own different expectations.”
It caused him to play “too uptight” in his early starts, and that showed on the field with him throwing a FBS-high six interceptions in the first three games.
Johnson said it was a “tough” for him to shut out all the negativity. His main frustration over the criticism was that he only had one career start prior to this season.
“It’s my first year starting as a college quarterback, I’m not the only one who played that bad at the beginning of the season, that happens,” Johnson said. “I knew I was going to come along as the season went on, obviously my number got called.”
The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder spent the past two months working hard in practice for a chance to prove himself.
His attitude consistently earned the praise of coaches, and teammates, and it earned him a shot at the starting job during the bye week.
A second chance looked like a long shot with Johnson’s roommate and friend Sean White playing well, but the redshirt freshman injured his left knee in an overtime loss to Arkansas.
Coach Gus Malzahn said Auburn planned to start Johnson against Ole Miss, but White proved healthy enough to get the majority of the snaps.
Johnson rotated in when the coaches wanted to run a read-option or when White’s knee brace needed adjusting.
Malzahn told Johnson Thursday that he would start against Texas A&M with White’s injury not improving.
“He just told me I was going to start, that I was ready,” Johnson said.
While Auburn’s ground game did most of the heavy lifting in the win, Johnson made his fair share of plays.
He completed his first nine passes on Auburn’s two opening drives that ended with touchdowns, including a 9-yard screen pass for a score to Marcus Davis.
Johnson only attempted seven passes in the second half, but an early 34-yard completion to Kerryon Johnson down Auburn’s sideline put the Tigers up two touchdowns.
As he was leaving the field Saturday with Auburn fans showering him with cheers, Johnson’s bright smile was a clear indication the Alabama native is having fun again.