Auburn coaches convinced Johnson’s shaky game is aberration
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — The Auburn Tigers are keeping the faith in Jeremy Johnson after the quarterback’s shaky opening game.
They believe it was an aberration, and a growth experience.
Johnson made some bad decisions in the sixth-ranked Tigers’ win over Louisville with three interceptions, including one where he tried to force a ball into triple coverage. The performance was a little surprising considering Johnson had made few obvious mistakes in two previous starts and other relief appearances in his first two seasons.
He faced a different kind of pressure to perform this time. Johnson opened the season regarded as a longshot candidate for the Heisman Trophy and was highly regarded enough that Auburn was picked to win the Southeastern Conference even in a division where all seven teams are now ranked.
“I think he was definitely trying to make some plays down the field early, which is to be expected,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday. “There’s a lot of quarterbacks that do that. Just let it come within the offense, and he’ll do that. We still have just as much or more confidence in Jeremy Johnson than we did before the game. The great thing about Jeremy is he’ll learn from his mistakes and he’ll get better.”
He might not have to this week against FCS power Jacksonville State visits but a trip to No. 14 LSU a week later affords much less margin for error.
Johnson had his moments in the game. But he wound up passing for just 137 yards and a touchdown with interceptions coming on back to back drives and the third leading to a Louisville touchdown that helped the Cardinals get back into the game.
Johnson also didn’t run much, gaining 11 yards on five carries counting one sack. A team that is banking on him to be the team leader and one of the league’s top passers isn’t sweating one game.
“I think he stayed positive,” Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis said. “He knows he needs to look ahead and not worry about the past. Playing quarterback, that’s one thing you really have to work on, having a short-term memory. That’s what he has.”
Johnson hasn’t had to overcome this kind of game in college. He had thrown only two interceptions in two seasons backing up Nick Marshall.
It didn’t help matters that Auburn tailbacks Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson were limited to a combined eight carries with injuries sustained during the game. Malzahn indicated all the players hurt in that game, which also includes defensive end Carl Lawson, will be able to play against Jacksonville State.
Johnson did lead Auburn to a 24-0 third quarter lead and throw for a 33-yard touchdown to Louis. He also had a near-perfect long touchdown pass to Jason Smith called back by a holding penalty, which hurt his stat line and how the performance was viewed.
“Probably a lot,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said of how that touchdown might have changed perception. “Now you’re looking at a guy that threw for over 200 yards and two touchdowns. (Three) plays later, we threw another interception. At this point, it’s one game. He’s still undefeated as a starter. He’s our guy. Can’t do anything about that, let’s go win the next one.”