Oct. 12, 2013
AUBURN, Ala. - For a team accustomed to dramatic finishes, it was a welcome respite. By the fourth quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, the issue had long been settled. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was already trying to hold the score down.
Honestly, that Auburn overwhelmed Western Carolina 62-3 on homecoming wasn't all that significant. The talent gap between Auburn and the Catamounts was enormous. The Tigers could have not thrown a single pass and still won big. As it was, they rushed for 517 yards, the second most in school history, and had 712 yards offense, the most in school history.
That was nice, but what really mattered was the true freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson got his first start and played college football for the first time. He was sharp for the most part, completing 17-of-21 passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns in a little more than three quarters.
Western Caroline coach Mark Speir saw early on that his team was badly overmatched. Malzahn, he said, earned his respect.
"They've got a heck of a football team," Speir said. "You know, Coach Malzahn is a class act. That game could have been a lot uglier than it was. I didn't know Coach Malzahn, but I've got a lot of respect for that man. I wish Auburn nothing but the best from here on out."
The Tigers literally were running out the clock for the final nine minutes, and passed up an opportunity for another easy touchdown.
It was the kind of game that was probably perfect for a talented freshman.
Johnson was rarely pressured, and he had receivers running wide open. It won't likely be that way the next time he plays. But he showed control and poise. He showed the rocket of an arm that made him one of the South's top quarterback recruits.
A 46-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis
was perhaps Johnson's most impressive throw. He wasn't perfect, overthrowing one receiver badly, underthrowing another and throwing an interception on pass that should have either not been thrown or been thrown elsewhere.
But all in all, he was prepared. And he did his job well.
"We knew he would be ready to go," sophomore wide receiver Ricardo Louis said. "We saw it in practice. We've been seeing it in practice."
Put aside the thought that there is now a quarterback race at Auburn. There isn't. Nick Marshall will start next Saturday at Texas A&M if he's healthy. Johnson acknowledged that after the game with no sign of misgivings. But if Marshall should be unable to go next Saturday or any other Saturday, Johnson said he'll be prepared.
A happy Saturday at Jordan-Hare convinced him of that if he wasn't convinced already.
"Very fun," Johnson said. "It was great."
If Marshall is healthy over the final six games, it's not clear how much more we'll see of Johnson. With Johnson's redshirt gone, it seems reasonable to assume he'll play some, but there's no guarantee of that. Regardless, he certainly looked and acted the part of a quarterback with really good days ahead, whether they be this year or next.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: