Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Johnson will get start, but Marshall will play
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn talks with Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson (6) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
FAYETTEVILLE -- Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn has a Marshall plan, but he's keeping the details to himself.
At least Malzahn confirmed during his news conference Tuesday what everyone had assumed for weeks. Sophomore backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson will start against Arkansas on Saturday in the season opener at Jordan-Hare Stadium and Nick Marshall will play at some point in the game.
Sept. 6;San Jose State
Sept. 18;at Kansas State
Sept. 27;Louisiana Tech
Oct. 11;at Mississippi State
Oct. 25;South Carolina
Nov. 1;at Ole Miss
Nov. 8;Texas A&M
Nov. 15;at Georgia
Nov. 29;at Alabama
"I'm not ready to say exactly when and all that, but he definitely will play," Malzahn said.
While Malzahn announced Aug. 2 that Marshall -- the first returning starter at quarterback Malzahn has had since getting into college coaching as Arkansas' offensive coordinator in 2006 -- wouldn't start the opener after being cited for marijuana possession, he had declined to name a replacement until Tuesday.
Even Johnson had said he didn't know who would start.
"If I'm called upon, I'll be ready," Johnson told reporters last week. "I really don't feel any pressure. I've just got to do what I've been coached to do and everything will pan out right."
Malzahn dodged questions Tuesday about when Marshall will enter Saturday's game and if it might be dictated by circumstances such as the score.
"We have a plan," Malzahn said. "We know what that is."
Johnson will be making his third start but his first against an SEC team. Last season when Marshall was nursing injuries, Johnson started in Auburn's victories over Western Carolina, 62-3, and Florida Atlantic, 45-10.
Johnson combined to complete 27 of 38 passes for 393 yards in his starts. In 6 games, he completed 29 of 41 passes for 422 yards and 6 touchdowns with 2 interceptions and rushed 7 times for 48 yards.
Johnson came to Auburn as a true freshman last fall, the same time Marshall arrived on campus as a transfer from Garden City (Kan.) Community College.
"He's a lot like Nick," Malzahn said. "He went through the season, learned the offense on the go. Then we had a chance in the spring, gave him a lot of reps."
Malzahn said Johnson was familiar with the offense because he ran a similar style at Montgomery (Ala.) Carver High School.
"We have a lot of confidence in him to run our entire offense," Malzahn said. "He's very talented. I mean, the two games he [started] last year, he was the freshman SEC offensive player of the week."
Malzahn said he won't scale back his play-calling with Johnson and that he'll benefit from last season's playing experience.
"Even this year, we were going to have a plan for him being a bigger factor this year than he was last year, and he's earned that, too," Malzahn said. "He's very quality and he does a lot of things that can help us win."
Offensive coordinator Rhett Laslee said there are no issues within the team about Auburn's quarterbacks.
"My guys know what to expect, they know what's going to happen," Lashlee told reporters Sunday. "I feel really good about Jeremy and where he's at. I feel really good about where Nick and where he's at.
"I feel really good about where our team is at. They believe in both those guys, and there's no uncertainty on our team at all."
Senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne said the Tigers have full confidence in Johnson.
"We've got two great quarterbacks, so that's always a good problem to have," Artis-Payne told reporters.
Even Marshall gave Johnson a vote of confidence.
"He's leading the team just like he's going to be the starter, and I'm just behind him 100 percent," Marshall told reporters.
Senior tight end C.J. Uzomah said Johnson has been vocal in practice and shown no fear about correcting teammates if necessary.
"As I've said before, I think he could start anywhere else in the SEC as a quarterback this year, and that's no disrespect to any other SEC teams," Uzomah said. "That's just how we feel about him."
Marshall was voted by coaches and media as the preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback. Last season he completed 142 of 239 passes for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns with 6 interceptions and rushed 172 times for 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Malzahn said Marshall -- who publicly apologized to teammates and coaches and Auburn fans after his citation -- has conducted himself well.
"He's had a very good fall camp," Malzahn said. "Not only on the field, but also as a leader. He's ready to go when called upon."
Malzahn isn't saying when Marshall will get the call to come off the bench against Arkansas, but the plan is in place.
Information for this article was contributed by AL.com.
Sports on 08/27/2014