Jeremy Johnson has been there before, even as an opening-day starter for Auburn
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. ― They'll have their nine scripted plays to start the game, as always, and, as always, with the option to change the script as the situation dictates.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee head into Saturday's season-opener against Louisville at 2:30 p.m. in the Georgia Dome with their successful formula in hand, and with a willingness to listen to new starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson on the occasional play selection.
"You'd much rather have a quarterback say, 'Coach, this is what I like.' Than 'whatever,'" Lashlee said after Wednesday's practice. "You want to do what they feel good about. You're going to have the best chance to succeed when the guys feel good about something."
"We may have a play that we think is just great for a certain situation, and another play that is pretty good. As a coach, we may go with 'this is the best play for this situation.' But, 'hey, my guy feels really good about this one.' I'm going to go with the one he feels good about if I can because he's confident in it."
Johnson served as Nick Marshall's backup the last two years, but, don't forget, he started the opener against Arkansas last season, completing 12 of 16 passes for 243 and two touchdowns while Marshall served a half-game suspension. Johnson finished the year hitting 28 of 37 passes for 436 yards.
"Jeremy has the ability to tell us 'this is what I like. This is what I don't like. This is the way I'm more comfortable doing things.' Do we always do it his way? No, but as a coach, it's your job to try to put him in a position to be successful. I think the fact he's played is huge. This isn't his first season opener. It's maybe the first time he's been the 'guy.' There is still a lot of growing to do and experiences he hasn't experienced. But he's started the first game before, and at least that part is out of the way."
Malzahn and Lashlee have worked with all kinds.
"You go back to the really bad ones like me in high school," Lashlee began, "to guys like Chris Todd to then a Cam Newton then you've got a Ryan Aplin and then you've got a Nick Marshall and now you've got Jeremy and all different guys in between. A lot of those guys do the same things well, certain things we've asked all of them to do. But then we obviously take them in all different directions. That's one of coach's strengths, not just with quarterbacks, but with everybody. What do these guys do best? How does it fit in with what we do? And let's build on that."
• Auburn wrapped up the physical part of game preparation Wednesday. Much of the rest of the week will be the mental game.
"Wednesday is the last really heavy day. You're putting the finishing touches on a lot of situations, you have third down and red zone," Lashlee said. "Tomorrow will be kind of a polish day. At this point, a lot of the physical work is done and it becomes more of a mental deal right now. That’s probably where, I don’t want to call it stress, but we’re emphasizing right now that we’ve got a lot of guys that will be playing either their first game or their first extended meaningful experience.
"We’ve got a lot of inexperience that’s going to be out there and we just have to pound it in their heads from now until game time the game plan so they'll know what to do."
• Roc Thomas tops the depth chart at running back.
"He's going to take probably the first snap. After that, there are a lot of things that are unknown and that's the thing about this game," Lashlee said.
Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson will be at running back as well.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine