Did Malzahn Make a Mistake Pulling the Redshirt off Johnson?

By Posted on: October 14th, 2013 in Football 25 Comments »

jeremy johnsonNot much has gone wrong for Gus Malzahn this season. That might change after Saturday. Stepping in for the injured Nick Marshall, freshman Jeremy Johnson showed why he was one of the top recruited quarterbacks in the land against Western Carolina.

With the meat of the SEC schedule starting Saturday at Texas A&M, Johnson may quickly become the most popular player on the team. You know, they say that about backup quarterbacks.

Johnson played so well against the overmatched Catamounts that Malzahn had to reiterate three times during his post-game press conference that there would be no quarterback controversy.

“I want to make this clear,” Malzahn said. “Nick Marshall is our starting quarterback. When Nick is 100 percent, he will be back. We feel very good about Jeremy and it was great to get him some in-game experience.”

The Montgomery native completed 17 of 21 passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns in a little more than two quarters of play Saturday.

Despite the showing, Marshall is still clearly the better option for Auburn. But should things go south Saturday at College Station or later in the season at Knoxville or Fayetteville, will there be a temptation to make a change at quarterback knowing you’ve got another viable option sitting there?

Will Auburn fans start to howl for Johnson if Marshall struggles even for a half?

That’s the danger Malzahn has opened himself up to by removing the redshirt off the heralded freshman. Many have been critical this week of that decision, arguing that Jonathan Wallace was more than ample to beat a very bad Western Carolina team.

With Auburn’s quarterback of the future starting his career now, what does Malzahn have in store for Johnson going forward? Talk to five people and you’ll hear that many theories.

Despite being given every indication by Malzahn that Marshall will be ready to go this week, some have speculated that he may not be and that’s why Auburn was quick to burn the redshirt.

Others suggest that Malzahn wants to get Johnson involved in the offense now, taking a cue from Urban Meyer and how he handled Tim Tebow with Chris Leak as the starter for the Gators.

The only problem with that move is that Marshall has another year of eligibility. Might Malzahn open the race up again in the spring? It sounds far-fetched, but you have to wonder why he would burn a year just to beat a bad football team.

There has to be more to the story. Count me among those who are scratching their heads a little today.

At this point, you have to trust Malzahn. He’s arguably doing the best coaching job in the SEC and maybe the country. You can bet he’s put more thought into it than the rest of us. We may not understand it completely, but we also don’t watch practice every day.

Time will tell whether the move was good or bad. One thing’s for certain, we’ll know quickly. The SEC schedule is coming fast and furious from this point forward. I suppose two quarterbacks are better than one – or none.

Let’s not forget last year.

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  1. wde1988 wde1988 says:

    I think you are on to something.

    WDE

  2. KungFuPanda9 KungFuPanda9 says:

    Parse Malzahn’s words carefully. He does. This is a key statement. “When Nick is 100 percent, he will be back.”

    Also, you have to ask yourself, have you been pleased with Marshall’s passing percentage.

    I think Lashlee said they had thought about playing Johnson earlier in the season. People say things for a reason.

    The coaches see these guys in practice every day. If you got to see the Catamounts game, you should have seen a QB with touch on his ball. He didn’t fire every pass out of a bazooka. Receivers caught a higher percentage of passes. Now, either the receivers got suddenly better, or there might just be another reason why those balls were more catchable.

    Johnson’s upside is a high completion rate, albeit against a pretty soft team. Marshall’s advantage right now is game experience against some hefty competition in LSU and Ole Miss, and that spectacular two-minute drill against Miss St. But Gus said the offense needs to be more balanced. Which quarterback offers the ability to make this team more balanced?

    I wouldn’t be unhappy if we used both guys according to the requirements at the time. Both guys can run and pass, so defenses can’t assume anything. The percentage of a run or pass play remains 60/40 either way.

  3. Autgr91 says:

    Count me among those that are ok with the move to take the redshirt off of Johnson. I believe that in today’s college football world, the redshirt is a nice thing to talk about and give an average to below average athlete a chance to hone his skills prior to having the pressure applied. However, the reality is that the good to great athletes (that we all want on our teams) just aren’t going to need, want, or use that extra year of eligibility prior to moving on to the next level. Given how much NM is relied on for the running game in our offense, an injury is quite possible and we need a good option with at least some playing experience (such as it is) to be able to come in and take over. See last year for what happens with new fresh faces inserted in big games. I think that if JW has what it takes to be the go to guy if NM goes down, he wouldn’t have lost the job to start with. Just my opinion.

  4. Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

    JJ’s the future. Get him out there to get experience. That said, if NM was 100%, the red shirt would not be burned. I think that CGM wanted JJ to taste success against a cupcake and did not want to activate him for the first time in College Station…..the question about whether it was the correct decision or not, well that’s well above my pay grade.

    All I know is that Saturday’s game in College Station just got a whole lot more interesting. War Eagle!

  5. sullivan013 sullivan013 says:

    Well, the upside to all this is that if Gus has us scratching our heads over which quarterback will play this week, you can bet TAMU defensive coordinator Mike Snyder is having the same problem.

    Crazy like a fox?

  6. War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

    Either way I think we are in competent hands. War eagle!

  7. AubieCE AubieCE says:

    I know that CGM knows more about QB play than 99.99% of the arm chain poasters…
    Nick was banged up and this was the time to play the 2nd Team QB..
    And it is obvious that Jeremy Johnson has a huge upside…
    If Jeremy Johnson plays vs TAMU it is all good…
    If Nick Marshall plays vs TAMU it is all good…
    I have every confidence CGM will play the one that gives AU the best chance…

  8. DaZeD DaZeD says:

    NM is a great athlete playing QB while JJ IS a great QB waiting to blossom. This start (and victory) for him against the Mothers of the Poor “U” was an ability to experience the nerves that come with a QB’s baptism in SEC competition and get that out of the way. I think Marshall has a lot left to offer, but I would like Malzahn to take the opportunity to start JJ in a “road game” this year so he can get that experience under his belt too. He also needs to experience a come from behind opportunity and hopefully not in relief of NM…but by his own actions/misfires.
    If Marshall can develop a forward pass, then he can probably seal the starting QB for the remainder of his time @ AU…if he cannot, then Malzahn has already said its his goal to get the best skill players on the playing-field that affords AU the best opportunity to win. If JJ can wrap his brain around Malzahn’s mad-cat offensive playbook, I look for him to be the man. Its about the team and nothing to do with the individual. Gotta like and respect that…

  9. Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

    I think Johnson is developing too quickly to be ignored. At the end of the day it’s Malzahn’s job to win games. He needs to have his best players available in order to do that. I do think Johnson is the better passer and Marshall is the better runner, but both are more than capable to do both. I think each one is poised to take advantage of particular defensive personnel packages. Two QBs capable of playing SEC caliber ball is a good problem to have.

  10. SandMountainTiger SandMountainTiger says:

    As I said at the beginning of the year, Jeremy is the backup. Nick went down, so he steps up. This “OMFG, NO!!! THEY BURNED UP HIS REDSHIRT” stuff is silly. If Johnson is as good as we think he is, We’ll get him for one year after Nick leaves, weather he was redshirted or not. Might as well get him as much experience as we can. Also, we run a lot of read option. There are going to be lots of oppertunities for Nick to get hurt in the future. I’d rather have a #1A than a #2. And who knows? Jeremy may pass Nick on the depth chart some day. You can’t replace game experience.

  11. DBAU81 says:

    I had hoped that we could redshirt Johnson this season, but I’ll take this kind of debate any day over the situation we had last year (really, the last two years) with no SEC-caliber QBs on the roster. I like to believe the theory that the coaches are seeing more out of this team than they expected and they’re trying to put the people on the field that give us the best chance to win now as opposed to trying to stockpile talent for the future.

  12. Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

    There is a reason that Marshall was a DB at UGA and we are seeing why now. He may the raw skills to play QB but to win in the SEC requires more than talent at the QB position, you have to have quick, decisive, critical thinking skills, as well as a big time arm that can make EVERY throw.
    Talk to any scout and they will tell you that the intermediate throw is the hardest for a QB to make because you need to have arm strength, touch AND accuracy to be able to get it down field, over a LB’s and under the DB coverage. That is where Nick has struggled this year, hitting that 5-15 yard pass. He either guns it too hard or can’t hit his man, and with our receivers you have to put it in their hands.

    I didn’t get to see JJ play, so I can’t assess his performance but it sounds like he was making the throws with accuracy and touch. Time will tell if it was prudent to burn his redshirt, because it only hurts you if he is an average talent that would not mature until his senior year. I don’t see that being the case, he already has matured phyically and most likely only needs reps to mature into a quality SEC QB.
    My opinion is that unless Marshall really improves as a passer, I don’t think he will be the starter next year. JJ has too much upside and talent to sit on the bench as a sophomore. I think Marshall will have an edge as the starter this year but he was mainly a bridge to get us to JJ next year …..but JJ is definitely going to have to win the job.
    This is not to say Nick has done a poor job, but it is obvious that he doesn’t have Gus’ confidence to run the full playbook and have a balanced attack. Nick has been a good caretaker of the offense and has been the leader we need after a disastrous 2012. I feel confident in him to handle the job the rest of the season, IF he’s healthy. If he’s not a threat to run though, I do not want him in there. Gus’ refusal to rest him after his injury in the Old Miss game, killed the offense and almost cost us the game. Why he did was very perplexing and downright foolish if you ask me.
    As for this week, after watching Ole Miss take A&M to the wire, I don’t see any reason why we can’t do the same. I think Nick could pull off the upset if he plays a mistake free game and is able to hit a couple of bombs to keep the Aggies honest and clogging up the running lanes for Mason, Payne and Grant.
    If we can pull of the upset in College Station, we should have the confidence to win at Arky and Tenn. If UGA stays beat up, we might be able to pile on while they are down. The mere fact I can honestly have hope that this is even possible makes me very proud of how the guys have turned it around.

    Lets keep the momentum going!
    WAREAGLE!!

  13. uglyjoe says:

    I think you are all over-analyzing. He’s the second best quarterback. Our best is hurt. Not a bad chance that he will get hurt again, if he get’s better. Get the second best ready to play against a sure thing opponent. The red shirt was useless if he’s as good as advertised; he’ll be gone before he’s a senior anyway.

  14. tigertracker says:

    I was in the WTF crowd for a min when this was announced thinking nick would be back for tamu. As minor as it looked something must be wrong that’s in the 4+ week recovery window and Gus is being coy to give sumlin something else to think about. We have stud QBs verbally committed for both 2014 and 2015 (for now…), but the bigger thing being what if Marshall won’t be 100% until say Tennessee game. That would mean 4 games (a full third of the season) potentially missed and plenty of reason (in my humble opinion) to yank a redshirt especially when we only have one loss. We’ve looked better each week and the teams on the back end of our schedule sure looking more vulnerable each week to me. Georgia will be lucky if the water boy isn’t dressed out before this season is over! You know Gus wants to drop a soup bone on bielema and Arkansas for separate reasons. Hide yo kids, hide yo wife that day! We might break 100 plays. Tamu is winnable if we don’t self destruct with turnovers and penalties. Both offenses can and should light it up. They have the worst D in the sec i do believe (fact checker needed). We have a ball hawking secondary and a D line with some appetite for destruction, but I think we ball control at will and leave Johnny on the bench. Johnny looked like he got hit by a sniper with that leg issue for those who missed it. Gus smells blood in the water already and is doing what he feels prudent to win the next few conference games and get valuable experience for JJ in the stretch run. In Gus we trust!!

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..I wouldn’t count Mr. Football out. He stayed in the pocket the next few series after the injury, but he did most of the damage on that final drive on the ground. We’d better be ready to chase him. Therezie as a spy, anyone?

      • tigertracker says:

        And Marshall has been announced to start… Only time will tell it was wise to pull the redshirt or not, but it’s done. Heres to both guys helping us win! What’s the over under on what quarter JJ sees action? Gotta figure he’ll have a package for a drive or two right?

  15. kadargo says:

    Lifting the redshirt was a great move. As others have pointed out the intermediate pass is what’s killed so many drives. As we head into the meat of our schedule, it’s going to be SEC Ds (good or bad) stack the run and dare us to pass it. The more stalled drives we have the more these other great offenses score, and we get put in a hole very quickly.

    JJ wasn’t just completing passes, he was hitting receivers in stride. I know it was a cupcake, but he looked like he’d been playing with these receivers for a while. I’m not so sure that Marshall is “clearly” the best option right now. We need sustained drives and the only way to do it consistently is hitting those short/mid passes. I’m hoping it’s a 2-headed QB attack at this point. If Marshall finds his touch because of the competition, then groovy given his running ability.

    Either way, what a great “problem” to have! The Gus Bus is ahead of schedule and I’m stoked for the future. War Damn Eagle!

  16. Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

    No mistake. Marshall has a week to mend. JJ gets first start butterflies out of the way and opponents have to plan for two QB’s.
    Good read Jay.