Jeremy Johnson couldn’t have looked better in his first start against an SEC opponent. The sophomore executed his designed plays to perfection through the first quarter. He completed his first seven passes, which included a 49-yard touchdown pass to Melvin Ray and a 62-yard pass play to Duke Williams. When the quarter was over, Johnson directed Auburn to 228 total yards of offense, 186 of them through the air. More importantly, Auburn had a 14-7 lead.

“We scripted plays for him and he got off to an outstanding start,” said head coach Gus Malzahn. “We said before that we feel like he could start for most teams in college football. I think everybody saw that tonight.”

Johnson finished off a seven-play, 98-yard drive, most of which took place in the first quarter, with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Williams early in the second. Auburn had a two-touchdown cushion, but it quickly disappeared with the Razorbacks making mincemeat of the Tigers’ run defense. Arkansas scored on consecutive possessions to tie the game at 21.

The Auburn offense and Johnson lost their flow after the Williams touchdown though.

“We (started to get) stuck on third downs,” Malzahn said.

After converting the first two third down plays of the game, the Tigers were 1-of-4 the rest of the first half.


  • 1st series (1st quarter): 3rd-and-13—–>14-yard pass completion
  • 3rd series (2nd quarter): 3rd-and-6—–>18-yard TD pass
  • 4th series: 3rd-and-1—–> rush for a loss of 1 yard
  • 5th series 3rd-and-1——> rush for no gain (attempted to go for it on 4th down; called for false start penalty)
  • 6th series: 3rd-and-2——>rush for 4 yards, 3rd-and-10—–>4-yard pass completion

Johnson finished 12-of-16 for 243 yards and two touchdowns. The last time an Auburn quarterback threw for more than 200 yards in a half was 2010 by Cam Newton.

Yet, despite all those big-time numbers by Johnson, Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee turned to to their bread-and-butter, Nick Marshall, in the second half.

“As a quarterback you want them to get in there and get comfortable and that’s what me and Coach Lashlee decided to do. (Jeremy) definitely looked comfortable. At halftime (though) we felt like, ‘Hey lets put Nick back in.’ Nothing against Jeremy at all.”

Inserting Marshall showed that Lashlee and Malzahn wanted a proven winner to run the offense and win a conference game. You could say that they didn’t trust Johnson to win the game for them. You could say they didn’t want to gamble with Johnson. Had the score not been tied or Auburn was facing an non-conference opponent, Johnson could have stayed in the game.

Marshall was efficient, both operating the zone read and throwing the ball. He was 4-of-6 for 50 yards passing and scored on a 19-yard touchdown run. Marshall received help around him, too. Cameron Artis-Payne gained 98 of his 177 yards in the final quarter and Auburn’s defense made significant adjustments in the locker room. They neutralized Arkansas’ run game that couldn’t be stopped in the first half. The defense also scored a touchdown, giving the Tigers a 14-point cushion.

The offense as whole operates better with Marshall in there. Johnson could see significant minutes against San Jose State next week. On the road the week after against Kansas State on a Thursday night? It’s not likely.

“Nick is still the quarterback,” said Malzahn.

It’s Auburn football, and there’s no quarterback controversy…just winning.