Oct. 12, 2013
Here comes Auburn and Ryan Smith, left, Tre Mason, center, and Jeremy Johnson (Anthony Hall photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn already has, for the first time in school history, four players who have rushed for 100 yards in a single season.
Could No. 5 come today?
That's one of the things Auburn fans can track in today's 1 p.m. homecoming game against underdog Western Carolina in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
No, seriously, there could be an unsung running back that could do it, and there will be offensive linemen blocking and receivers catching and defensive players making tackles, and, well, lots more than what you'll be really watching for, the debut of quarterback Jeremy Johnson.
Johnson grabbed headlines Friday when coach Gus Malzahn announced the freshman from Montgomery will not only appear in his first college game today, but will start in place of the injured Nick Marshall.
Johnson will be the fifth different starting quarterback over Auburn's last 14 games, joining Marshall, Kiehl Frazier, Clint Moseley and Jonathan Wallace, who will be today's backup.
Western Carolina, at 1-5, seems like a good place for Johnson to start his career. The Catamounts, an old-school Division I-AA team, have lost 31 consecutive games against Division I opponents, have lost 24 straight games in their own Southern Conference, have lost 18 straight road games and have 14 true freshman on their two-deep depth chart.
Auburn is 4-1 and has a chance to hit the halfway point of the regular season today with some more momentum before playing Texas A&M on the road next week. It'll be a chance for Johnson to test his college game. It'll be a game for Marshall to rest a sore knee. It'll be a game for others who are injured to watch. And it'll be a chance for some of the backups to impress the coaches.
Marshall, like Johnson, arrived as a newcomer for this season. The junior college transfer has played in just five games, all as the Tigers' starting quarterback. He's been steady, hitting 71-of-120 passing for 902 yards with four touchdowns. He is also Auburn's second-leading rusher with 288 yards. Malzahn said Marshall will "definitely be OK." Marshall was at practice all week and seemed no worse for wear as he left the athletic complex Friday.
Johnson was one of Auburn's big-time signees for 2013. He passed for 3,193 yards and 31 touchdowns and rushed for 705 yards and seven more touchdowns at Carver High School last year.
Malzahn, who says he's been gathering information on his team in his first year as Auburn's head coach, can fill up more pages in his notebook today. He says that's been a pleasant task so far.
"The biggest thing is that our team has bought in to what our coaches have tried to tell them," he said this week. "They are playing for the guy beside them. They are practicing hard. They are trying to improve. That is the biggest thing that has stuck out to me."
Oh, and those 100-yard rushers? Marshall, plus running backs Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, have already done it.
"We can run the football, and in this league you need to be able to run the football," Malzahn said. "We just need to get where we are balanced and be able to throw the football effectively to get some more first downs. If we do that, we’ve got a shot to be a pretty solid offense before it’s all said and done this year."
Malzahn runs a run-first offense. Today, a homecoming crowd will see it, and have the bonus of watching Jeremy Johnson make his college debut.
Video rerun: With Nick Marshall on board, Auburn leaves the athletic complex Friday...
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: