Texas A&M ran 106 plays from scrimmage last Thursday against Oklahoma State.
Like he does every week, quarterback Jerrod Johnson watched every one of them with his coaches. Among them: six "minuses." Five of those minuses were turnovers, all by Johnson, including one that set up Oklahoma State's game-winning field goal and a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
"It’s frustrating," said Johnson, who also completed 40-of-62 passes for 407 yards and five touchdowns in the game. "The fumble, I've done that thousands of times and I kneed the ball out of my own hand. I fall and there’s nothing I can do, and then a guy jumps on the ball by himself and he missed, and another guy picks it up and runs it back. It’s just something that I can’t really -- it’s hard for me to explain."
Explaining isn't what's important to revive Texas A&M's season. The task for Johnson is now fixing those turnovers before the Aggies travel to Arlington, Texas on Saturday to play No. 10 Arkansas in Cowboys Stadium.
But for Johnson's mistakes -- he has eight interceptions in his last six quarters -- he's still the same quarterback who threw 242 consecutive passes without an interception last season, a Big 12 record, and finished with the fewest interceptions (8) of any full-time starter in the Big 12 last season. All this despite throwing 497 passes, more than anyone else in the league.
"Not having spring ball, he was a little rusty at times," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said of Johnson, who underwent minor offseason shoulder surgery. "We constantly check his shoulder. It’s fine. We can’t assume something’s wrong when there isn’t. He really rifled a couple balls that would lead you to say his shoulder was fine."
Said Johnson: "The FIU game we had a little confusion. They had a new D-coordinator and we didn’t really know what they would do against us, and they did something completely different the week before. This week, I know the coverages they were in, I knew where I was going with the ball pretty much every time, it’s just, I don’t know."
And Sherman insists the interceptions and fumbles that have shown up on the past two Saturdays were missing during fall camp and aren't there in practice.
"What’s the chances of that, the ball just coming out of my hand? I’m sitting there just like, you’re kidding me," Johnson said of his fourth quarter fumble. "It felt like it took them 20 seconds to run that ball into the end zone. I was just sitting there like, Well, alright, we’re down 14, we’ve got to score 15 points to win."
He got to 14 -- tying the game at 35 -- and got the ball with 1:16 to play and a chance at redemption. The momentum shifted for good toward Oklahoma State with Johnson's fourth interception of the game, giving Oklahoma State the ball near field goal range with just 16 seconds left.
"I thought I saw a hole and tired to anticipate it. A linebacker came underneath it right before it left my hand and I tried to put it over his head and it made me sail it a little bit," Johnson said. "In that situation again, I’d probably just take the check down."
He'll have plenty of chances to put the ball back in the air on Saturday against Arkansas. In August, Texas A&M figured an improved defense meant an improved season. It still might. But Johnson still has to do his part, and now that means limiting the turnovers, regardless of the reasons why they've occurred.
"This team could be really special," Johnson said. "I know Jeff Fuller had a great game and that’s just Jeff. For Kenric McNeal to come out and have the great game that he did, and Ryan Swope and EZ [receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu], we have so many playmakers and our defense, the way they’re playing, they’re kind of the backbone of the team right now. I think with those things combined, if we can limit the catastrophic turnovers that change the entire game, we can be really special."