- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUBURN, Ala. -- Freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson looked mighty impressive in his debut for Auburn. But after the 62-3 win over Western Carolina, head coach Gus Malzahn was quick to smother any talk of a potential quarterback controversy.
“I want to make it clear -- Nick Marshall is our starting quarterback,” Malzahn said. “When Nick is 100 percent, he will be back.”
On Friday night, Malzahn announced that Johnson would get the start over Marshall who was still nursing a knee injury he suffered last weekend against Ole Miss. The former ESPN 300 recruit, making his first appearance of the season, took full advantage of the opportunity.
Albeit against a lesser opponent, Johnson finished 17-of-21 for 201 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. He gave way to backup Jonathan Wallace early in the third quarter.
“It was great,” Johnson said. “I enjoyed every bit of it. You never know when an opportunity comes, and I just prayed overnight and stayed focused.”
The heralded freshman, who was a four-star, ESPN 300-rated prospect, admitted that he was nervous before the game. After he completed his first pass, a 15-yard strike to Trovon Reed, he fell into a rhythm. He completed his first four passes, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jay Prosch.
“I wasn’t really expecting to receive the ball on the play,” Prosch said. “It kind of caught me off guard, but it was awesome. I thought [Jeremy] did great. Sometimes it is hard to hear out there, and he was really loud. He was really prepared.”
On the next drive, Johnson vastly under threw Ricardo Louis on a potential touchdown. The strong-armed quarterback went right back to Louis on the next play, hitting him in stride for a 46-yard score.
The only mistake Johnson made came on a deep ball when he threw it up for grabs, and Western Carolina came down with it. Still, it was a positive debut for the freshman.
“I think he made some good decisions early,” Malzahn said. “The line protected him extremely well. He’s been playing very well in practice, and that carried over today.”
While Malzahn squelched any talk of a QB change, it remains to be seen if and when Marshall will be healthy enough to return.
The junior college transfer started the first five games, leading the Tigers to a 4-1 record. He’s thrown for 902 yards, rushed for 288 yards and scored six total touchdowns. But will he be 100 percent when they visit Texas A&M next weekend?
“He’s just taking his time to get healthy,” running back Tre Mason said. “I’m pretty sure he’s fine, and he’ll most likely be back next week. He’s the leader of the team. He’s a real positive leader, and he’s helping Jeremy in all aspects of his game.”
Even his counterpart believes Marshall will return against the Aggies.
“Nick is doing better,” Johnson said. “He’s about 80 percent right now, so he’s going to be back next week and ready.”
However, if for some reason Marshall can’t go, Johnson proved that he’s more than capable of stepping in and directing this offense. The coaches felt it was best to do away with the redshirt and make sure Johnson is available when needed.
“Everybody has got a role on the team, and really I’m playing my role,” Johnson said. “Nick is the starter, and Nick’s going to start from this point on, but if anything happens, I know I’m going to be ready because coach keeps me prepared."
6hSam Khan Jr.
1dSam Khan Jr.