Dec. 26, 2013
Freshman Jeremy Johnson passed for 201 yards and four touchdowns against Western Carolina (Shanna Lockwood/USA Today)
Sixth in a series of stories on Auburn's journey to the BCS National Championship Game.
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - It is unlikely anyone gave Western Carolina a chance to beat Auburn on Oct. 12 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Catamounts, an FCS team, limped in with a 1-6 record. They were overmatched. Even they knew it.
But the game took on added interest when starting quarterback Nick Marshall suffered a leg injury. There was concern that it could keep him out for an extended period, and Auburn coaches made the decision to pull the redshirt off freshman Jeremy Johnson.
Johnson's performance, even against Western Carolina's overmatched defense, was better than anyone could have reasonably expected. He completed 17-of-21 passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns as Auburn romped to a 62-3 victory, improving to 5-1 on the season.
The Tigers rushed for an eye-popping 517 yards. Cameron Artis-Payne had 133 yards on just seven carries. Tre Mason had 100 yards on six carries.
Auburn led 21-3 at the end of the first quarter and 42-3 at halftime. Jonathan Wallace played most of the second half at quarterback but threw just one pass.
Johnson, who had last played for Carver High School of Montgomery, said it was exhilarating experience.
"It was great, and I enjoyed every bit of it," Johnson said. "You never know when the opportunity is going to come, and I just prayed overnight and stayed focused. I want to give all the praise to my teammates and God."
First-year head coach Gus Malzahn saluted his players for getting ready to play an opponent that would have been easy to overlook.
"The big thing that stood out to me was I really feel like our team got better today," Malzahn said. "Our coaches really challenged the guys, saying `Hey we need to get better each week.' Other teams in our situation wouldn't have. I'm proud of our team, and the fact that they went out there and took care of business today."
Malzahn said he wasn't surprised that Johnson had a successful debut.
"I thought Jeremy did a solid job," Malzahn said. "I think he made some good decisions early. The line protected him extremely well. He's been playing very well in practice, and that carried over today."
Auburn outgained the Catamounts 712 yards to 173 yards.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: