Just two days after the Auburn A-Day Spring Game, head coach Gus Malzahn tweeted Monday that Jeremy Johnson is the Tigers’ new starting quarterback.
We just named Jeremy Johnson our starting QB for 2015. Everyone in our program has 100 percent confidence in him! War Eagle!
— Coach Gus Malzahn (@CoachGusMalzahn) April 20, 2015
Jeremy Johnson threw two, long touchdown passes on Saturday: one of 36 yards to Duke Williams, the other 43 yards to Myron Burton. Auburn’s reported competition between Johnson and Sean White may have just been coach lip-service to create competition, but regardless, Jeremy Johnson rose to the challenge.
The question now is, will he be able to rise to the occasion enough to get Auburn back to the SEC championship?
Johnson started in place of suspended Nick Marshall in last year’s season opener and put together a solid 12-of-16 and two-touchdown line. He spent the rest of the season in clean-up duty.
Malzahn’s track record with quarterbacks is solid, but Jeremy Johnson is a much different style playmaker than Malzahn’s past pupils. Johnson has the talent to be Malzahn’s best quarterback since 2010 Heisman Trophy winner and national champion Cam Newton, but only in body type are the two similar.
Whereas Netwon used his massive frame to bulldoze would-be tacklers on carries, Johnson’s 6-foot-5, 235-pound physique is used to uncork darts from the pocket.
With promising running back Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas joining Johnson in the backfield, the quarterback won’t need to be too active in the run game for Auburn to be multifaceted next season. Nevertheless, Jeremy Johnson told Ryan Black of the Ledger-Enquirer last month that he was working toward becoming a threat with his legs, as much as he is with his arm.
Malzahn’s system is proven with two-way stars running it. To wit, there are the rushing statistics his quarterbacks have produced in his three seasons as a head coach:
2014, Nick Marshall (Auburn): 153 carries, 798 yards, 11 touchdowns
2013, Nick Marshall (Auburn): 172 carries, 1,068 yards, 12 touchdowns
2012, Ryan Aplin (Arkansas State): 104 carries, 438 yards, six touchdowns
Perhaps not coincidentally, Malzahn’s worst team as either a head coach or offensive coordinator, the 2011 Auburn Tigers, lacked an explosive ball-carrying quarterback. Kiehl Frazier carried for 327 yards that season, but he was used primarily in gimmick packages, with Barrett Trotter manning the pass plays.
Jeremy Johnson’s ability to refine that part of his game will make him especially dangerous individually, and Auburn particularly explosive as a team.