Johnson leads Auburn to blowout victoryPublished 11:25pm Saturday, October 12, 2013
AUBURN (AP) — Coach Gus Malzahn makes it clear that Auburn doesn’t have a quarterback controversy.
Freshman Jeremy Johnson seems to at least be a solid Plan B after taking advantage of a huge mismatch to lead the Tigers to a 62-3 rout of Western Carolina and a school-record 712 yards on Saturday.
Johnson was 17-of-21 passing for 201 yards and four touchdowns in his college debut while Nick Marshall watched from the sidelines with a knee injury sustained against Mississippi.
Malzahn emphasized that “Nick Marshall is our starting quarterback,” but his status remains uncertain for a visit to No. 9 Texas A&M.
“I think what we proved is that we’ve got two very capable quarterbacks,” the Auburn coach said. “That’s going to do nothing but help us moving forward.”
The competition will get much tougher for the Tigers (5-1), whoever’s at quarterback.
Johnson was announced as the starter Friday evening with Marshall not fully recovered from a knee injury. Marshall did participate in pre-game warmups.
Johnson picked apart the Football Championship Subdivision Catamounts (1-6) before leaving midway through the third quarter.
“It was great,” Johnson said of his first start. “I enjoyed every bit of it. You never know when the opportunity will come. I stayed focused and prayed overnight.”
Cameron-Artis Payne ran for 133 yards on seven carries, including a 59-yard run and a 25-yard touchdown on one drive in the third quarter. Tre Mason gained 100 yards on six carries with first-half touchdowns of 20 and 53 yards.
The Tigers’ old record of 695 yards came against Southwestern Louisiana in 1985. Auburn ran for 511 yards on 43 carries, a school-record average of 11.9 yard per rush. The Tigers had 30 first downs to six for Western Carolina. Eight different players scored for Auburn.
Johnson’s debut provided the only drama in a game when Auburn had four touchdowns just over a minute into the second quarter.
Auburn held Western Carolina, which has lost 32 in a row to FBS and FCS teams, to 173 total yards.
“Coach Malzahn is a class act,” Western Carolina coach Mark Speir said. “That game could have been a lot uglier than it was.”
A four-star recruit and Alabama’s Mr. Football, the 6-foot-5, 219-pound Johnson had been a candidate for a redshirt year before getting called into action over Jonathan Wallace, who started the last four games of 2012. Malzahn said he had been getting the majority of practice snaps with the No. 2 offense in recent weeks.
“I just stayed ready,” Johnson said. “If I was going to redshirt or not, I was still going to be happy. I still was going to improve at practice and help the team. You never know what will happen with players.”
Johnson threw three touchdown passes to stake Auburn to a 42-3 halftime lead en route to the Tigers’ most points since a 62-24 victory over Tennessee-Chattanooga in 2010.