Gus Malzahn isn't dropping any hints as to how long Nick Marshall will be on the bench vs Arkansas, and he hasn't even officially named Jeremy Johnson the starter on August 30th, but it would be a big surprise if he's not. That's likely what the Arkansas coaches are planning for, anyway. So who is Jeremy Johnson? How is he different from Marshall? What do Arkansas coaches need to be ready for?
In 2013, Auburn backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson was 29-for-41 for 422 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions while playing significant minutes in two games. His larger frame makes it easy to draw comparisons to Cam Newton physically, and more of those plays and formations are likely to be used on August 30th.
Against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic, the playbook for Auburn was very limited in how it used Johnson. They used called gives to the running back on the Zone Read, and coached him to be cautious about taking off on passing downs. Johnson and Nick Marshall are contrasting weapons in the Zone Read scheme, where Marshall excels at getting outside on the edge and making guys miss, Johnson is a larger bodied, inside-the-tackle runner with good straight-line speed.
In the passing game against those weaker opponents they showed some roll out passes, which gave Johnson an easier read. I would look for the same when they play the Razorbacks. Also you know Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee to have several of those roll out plays scripted on the opening drive to get Johnson outside the pocket. Will Robb Smith have pressure designed to contain Johnson?
Here is a look at some plays from last season that will very likely be implemented in addition to the high powered run game. Also these show some situations and plays where Jeremy Johnson excelled and some where he struggled last season.
Packaged play called at the line of scrimmage:
On this particular play against Florida Atlantic, Auburn takes advantage of the attention that opposing defenses must pay to their running game. The QB gives a play fake with blocking schemes that look exactly like a buck sweep. This draws up the outside LB playing over the slot receiver, and and it leaves the zone in front of the safety and behind the linebackers open for an easy completion.
Inside Zone Read:
Just the standard Inside Zone Read where the defensive end is left unblocked and must make a decision on attacking the RB or the QB. Johnson is quick enough to get outside and into the second level. He was apparently coached to slide after 8- 10 yds in this non conference game. He is a capable runner, but lacks the quickness and burst of Marshall. If Arkansas can muddy his read with pressure and different looks, he will make mistakes.
Home Run Ball:
Jeremy Johnson throws an impressive deep ball, and has a much stronger arm than Nick Marshall. This play has the same action up front as the power run and the play action shown in the first image above. The safety is completely fooled. He first reads run, then jumps looking for the quick post as in the first image above. He is in a direct run pass conflict as Ian Boyd outlines in his article on the "Pop Pass".
They may have a couple of home run plays called on the first series against the Razorbacks. However, it does seem that Johnson struggled at times with his accuracy. How Robb Smith attacks him will be a big factor in what facet of the game the Arkansas defense feels they have the best advantage. Will he play the safeties back and rely on the LBs for run support and Inside Read responsibility without an extra defender? Or will they put the safeties in these situations above where they are stuck in conflict between run/pass?
In several situations last season the true freshman forced passes in to tight coverage trusting his arm. Plays like these will give the Arkansas defense some opportunities to create turnovers and change the momentum of the game. If this happens early Johnson may be given an even shorter leash in the offense. Malzahn will probably stick to run-heavy play calls on the first few series giving Johnson time to settle. Wouldn't we all like to see a first series pick or fumble to get the Hogs rolling?