Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Aggies may start Johnson again at QB vs. Hogs
Texas A&M quarterback Max Johnson (14) looks for an opening to pass, Saturday, September 23, 2022 during the first quarter of a football game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Visit nwaonline.com/220924Daily/ for the photo gallery.
FAYETTEVILLE — Texas A&M quarterback Max Johnson might start against Arkansas for the second consecutive year after beginning the season as a backup.
When Conner Weigman, who beat out Johnson for the starting job in preseason camp, suffered a right ankle injury against Auburn last week, Johnson came off the bench and helped the Aggies win 27-10 at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.
Texas A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher said Monday that Weigman has a sprained ankle and his status is day-to-day.
If Weigman isn’t ready to go for Saturday’s 11 a.m. game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Johnson figures to get the start.
“Max came in and played excellent football and did a great job,” Fisher said after the Auburn game. “He made plays and really led us.”
When the offense struggled early last season with Haynes King at quarterback and Texas A&M lost to Appalachian State 17-14, Johnson started against Miami and helped the Aggies win 17-9.
Johnson then started against Arkansas and completed 11 of 21 passes for 151 yards and 1 touchdown without an interception in the Aggies’ 23-21 victory. He also rushed for 39 yards.
Texas A&M (3-1, 1-0 SEC) led Auburn 6-3 last Saturday when Johnson entered in the second half and led the Aggies to three touchdowns. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns with a 22-yarder to tight end Jake Johnson — his younger brother — and 37 yards to Evan Stewart.
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“I wasn’t really nervous at all,” Max Johnson said. “I mean, I’ve been in these situations before.
“I was excited to be there with those guys. I feel like we did a good job going out there and executing and, of course, it was really fun to go out there with Jake.”
Johnson, 6-6 and 230 pounds, is listed as a redshirt sophomore including the season added by the NCAA for all players in 2020 because of covid-19, but this is his fourth season on a college roster.
“I think he’s a really good player,” Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said. “They’ve obviously done a nice job with being able to keep him when he wasn’t named the starter.
“I think in his mind, it looks to me like he believes he’s the starter, and more importantly, the kids around him believe in him.”
Johnson has made 17 starts in 25 games played in two seasons at LSU and two at Texas A&M.
He has completed 376 of 625 passes (60.2%) for 4,627 yards and 42 touchdowns with 7 interceptions and rushed for 134 yards and 3 touchdowns.
“I think a lot of people forget about it, but he’s been in the SEC for a lot of years,” Jake Johnson said Monday in praising his brother. “He has a lot of touchdowns to his name. He’s totally confident. He’s the toughest competitor that’s ever been a part of my life.
“I think he leads the team well. He has the respect of the players. He’s going to go compete and give his all every game.”
Stewart leads the Aggies with 22 receptions for 307 yards, Ainias Smith 18 for 272 and Jake Johnson 11 for 90.
Amari Daniels is the leading rusher with 39 carries for 234 yards. He had a 79-yard run against Auburn. Le’Veon Moss had 15 carries for 97 yards against Auburn and on the season has 24 for 169. Rueben Owens has 27 carries for 103 yards.
“I think we’ve got three really good guys that we can count on, which is huge for us and what we’re trying to do,” Fisher said of the running back rotation. “It’s good to have more than one because the physicality at that position. Man, it’s hard to go through a season totally healthy.”
Senior Layden Robinson is a three-year starter and leads the offensive line.
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Linebackers Edgerrin Cooper (24 tackles, 2 sacks)and Taurean York (22 tackles) lead the defense along with senior safety Demani Richardson (14 tackles), who scored a touchdown on a 97-yard fumble return against Arkansas last season. Richardson has 46 career starts and 259 tackles.
The Aggies have 34 tackles for losses totaling 120 yards and 6 sacks.
“I think they’re really good at linebacker,” Pittman said. “Their front four is big, physical, like it seems like they always are. Boy, they get off the football.
“Obviously they’ve got a tremendous amount of speed in the secondary.”
Max Johnson suffered a season-ending thumb injury against Mississippi State last year. It was in his fourth game, so he was able to redshirt.
King returned to the lineup at Alabama, but Weigman took over for the final four games as a true freshman.
With three years of eligibility remaining, King transferred to Georgia Tech, where he’s starting.
Johnson could have looked for a new home, but decided to stay at Texas A&M and compete with Weigman.
Fisher waited until the end of camp to name Weigman the starter, but said he has plenty of confidence in Johnson.
“Max believes in himself,” Fisher said. “That’s one of the things I love about him.”
Fisher said Johnson didn’t agree with the decision to start Weigman.
“Which is what you want. That’s exactly what you want,” Fisher said. “But a lot of guys lose confidence in themselves and then don’t prepare for the opportunity when it comes.
“Max took that as, ‘OK, they didn’t pick me, but I still believe in myself.’ He prepared well. That takes character, maturity.”
Johnson said after the Auburn game he never considered transferring from Texas A&M.
“I’m getting an awesome degree here,” Johnson said. “I love the coaches. I love the players. I love the university. This is where I want to be.”
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