Oct. 12, 2013
Auburn's Jeremy Johnson makes a throw Saturday in his college debut (AP photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. – Jeremy Johnson didn't play in Auburn's first five games, but when he finally got the call, gosh, did he ever have a good time.
The Auburn freshman stepped in for the injured Nick Marshall and threw four touchdown passes in Auburn's 62-3 smashing of Western Carolina at homecoming Saturday.
"I enjoyed every bit of it," Johnson said. "You never know when the opportunity comes."
Actually, Johnson, the freshman quarterback from Montgomery, learned he would make his college debut as Auburn's starting quarterback late Friday afternoon when his offensive coordinator called him to the front of a team bus.
"Coach Lashlee asked me if I was ready. I told him 'yes.' He was like, 'Well, we're going to start you this Saturday.' From that point on I just stayed focused," Johnson said.
Auburn improved to 5-1 overall by rewriting the offensive record book for most yards in a game. When it was over, Auburn had 712 yards and Johnson was 17-of-21 passing for 201 yards. His day was impressive, and relatively short. He played the first 2 ½ quarters before giving way to Jonathan Wallace.
Marshall went through pregame drills with his fellow quarterbacks, but Malzahn was not going to play him because of the knee injury he suffered in last week's win over Ole Miss. Auburn hopes he'll be ready when the Tigers visit Texas A&M next Saturday.
Malzahn said he likes the idea of having two capable quarterbacks, and, when Marshall is healthy, he'll return as the starter. "That's the bottom line," Malzahn said. Johnson said he was OK with that.
"I’m just doing my role – whatever I can help the team in doing, that's what I'm doing," Johnson said.
As far as Marshall, "he's the starter," Johnson said. Johnson's role? "Whatever Coach Malzahn draws up, I'll be ready."
Two of Auburn's running backs were impressed with Johnson's start.
"He was real calm. I have high expectations for him. He met those expectations," said Tre Mason
"All in all," said Cameron Artis-Payne, "I think he played the way we thought he'd play."
Another, H-back Jay Prosch, found a pleasant surprise thanks to Johnson, who stepped out of trouble on a play and threw him an 8-yard touchdown pass, his first-ever touchdown reception.
"I wasn't really expecting to receive the ball on that play," Prosch said. "It kind of caught me off guard. It was really surprising and awesome."
Though it took Lashlee to tell him, Johnson could have guessed he was going to start. He said he got most of the work in practice during the week. He had been running the second-team offense in practice before that, even when Wallace was listed as Marshall's backup.
"I improved over the year," Johnson said.
Still, weeks went by and he didn't play. But Malzahn said he had considered playing Johnson even before Marshall was hurt.
"I just stayed ready. If I was redshirted or not, I was still going to be happy and still improve at practice and be a player for the team," Johnson said. "We didn't really talk too much about the redshirt. Of course, you never know what happens to players."
What happened to Marshall was a knee injury. Dr. Jeremy Johnson said his teammate was improving, figures to be about 80 percent healthy and would play against Texas A&M.
Marshall was in the race to be the starter before the season began with Marshall, Wallace and Kiehl Frazier. Auburn moved Frazier to defense before moving him to receiver. Then Marshall, the junior college transfer, was named the No. 1 quarterback. He, like Johnson, has been successful.
"I had to stay positive," Johnson said. "He won the job. We had to do what was best for the team, so they put him out there. And I cheer him on every game. He cheered me on this game.
"We just keep each other up."
Johnson admitted he had a "little nerves" going into the game, but felt fine after his first completion. The completions kept coming, including the touchdown pass to Prosch, a 46-yard beauty to Ricardo Louis, a 22-yarder to Tony Stevens and a 3-yard pass to Quan Bray.
Johnson, the state's Mr. Football last year at Carver High School, took it all in, even if it meant waiting his turn.
"Coach Gus Malzahn recruited me when I was young, and he always told me I was the future and the face of Auburn," Johnson said.
Video: Jeremy Johnson talks about his college debut:
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine