Coming into Auburn’s opening game against Louisville many thought junior Jeremy Johnson was a legitimate Heisman contender despite having just two career starts.
“He’s a veteran guy even though he hasn’t started a complete year,” coach Gus Malzahn said earlier in the week on his radio show.
At times on Saturday it was hard to tell.
Johnson’s hype had him drawing comparisons to Cam Newton. Fair or not, the hype came to a screeching halt in Auburn’s opening 31-24 victory against Louisville.
Johnson had two touchdowns (one rushing and one passing), but the game could have been put out of reach much faster had Johnson not thrown three interceptions.
All quarterbacks are going to have turnovers, but all three of Johnson’s interceptions were the result of very poor decision making. However, Auburn’s offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee did not express concern about Johnson’s questionable throws.
“I have as much confidence, if not more, than I had in him before the game,” Lashlee told reporters Sunday night, according to OAnow.com’s Tom Green.
On two of Johnson’s turnovers he threw the ball directly to Louisville defenders. It was almost as if he could not see the Louisville players, which is hard to believe with the hideous jerseys they were wearing.
His worst interception of the day came when Johnson hurled the ball into triple coverage from a clean pocket. The ball was easily picked off by Louisville’s Josh Harvey-Clemons.
Auburn’s impressive defense forced two turnovers that saved Johnson’s poor effort from resulting in a loss. The first set up a short field for Auburn on its first possession, and Justin Garrett returned a fumble 82 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to put Auburn up 14-0.
“He’s [Johnson] going to be fine,” Gus Malzahn told reporters after the game. “He made some very good plays to help us win, especially down the stretch.”
That may be true, but Malzahn looked visibly frustrated on the sideline during the game. His attitude about Johnson’s performance after the game may have been different had Auburn blown its 31-10 fourth quarter lead.
Auburn was able to win despite Johnson’s struggles, but he cannot turn the ball over three times and expect to win many games.
“I pretty much won’t make those mistakes again,” Johnson told reporters after the game.
Johnson still has an opportunity to have a very good season, but if Saturday’s game is any indication, he still has to develop as a quarterback.
Maybe it will be easier without all the hype.