Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, who has started all five games in 2013, will miss the Tigers' Saturday Homecoming contest against Western Carolina due to a knee injury. In Marshall's place, true freshman Jeremy Johnson will make his first career start, head coach Gus Malzahn announced Friday.
Nick Marshall is not 100 percent so we are going with Jeremy Johnson at QB tomorrow. Have a lot of confidence in him and he is well prepared— Coach Gus Malzahn (@CoachGusMalzahn) October 11, 2013
Marshall was injured during the fourth quarter of Auburn's 30-22 win over Ole Miss last Saturday. After a long run down the sideline, he awkwardly stumbled out of bounds and immediately began showing a noticeable limp. He remained in the game against the Rebels, but was severely limited running the ball. Marshall had plenty of running room on one outside carry after the injury, but he was forced to slide after gaining just a few yards.
Johnson is the much hyped Class of 2013 signee who many see as the next star quarterback for the Tigers. Standing 6'5 and weighing in at 219 pounds, he has a more impressive frame than Marshall, who checks in at 6'1, 210. Out of Carver-Montgomery, Johnson was a consensus four-star prospect during the last recruiting cycle, and when he arrived on campus for fall practice, he surprised by coming in second to Marshall in the race to be Auburn's starting signal caller.
Bud Elliott, SB Nation's national recruiting analyst, likes the size Johnson brings to the quarterback position.
"The thing that stands out in my mind about Johnson is his impressive frame. As he fills out, he'll be as big as Ben Rothlesberger or Duante Culpepper," Elliott said. "He needs a lot of coaching and reps, and I wouldn't expect him to operate the offense smoothly. He did make a couple of very nice throws on his highlight tape, and the arm talent is there. Whether it will consistently show up is a question. He is definitely nowhere near the runner Marshall is, but can be hard to bring down due to his size and strength."
Really, who starts at quarterback against Western Carolina is pretty insignificant. As has been documented, the Catamounts are one of the worst teams in FCS, and even if Auburn elected to start Kiehl Frazier Saturday, the Tigers would win comfortably. The big question isn't, "what Johnson can do in his first start on Homecoming?" It's, "does this mean Marshall's injury is serious, and is Johnson the starter going forward?"
As a true freshman who hasn't seen a snap this year, Johnson still has his redshirt intact. That will change this weekend. And if this is a move for just one game to give Marshall some extra rest before traveling to Texas A&M, why not just start Jonathan Wallace? He could certainly get the job done against the Catamounts, and starting Wallace would leave the redshirt on Johnson. But since Johnson has been given the nod, does that mean Marshall's injury is worse than Malzahn and co. are letting on, and will he be out for an extended period of time? Malzahn has downplayed to the media several injuries this year, and if Marshall is going to be out for a while, Johnson -- again, the guy who finished No. 2 in the preseason QB competition -- likely gives the Tigers their best chance at winning.
After a 5-1 start -- yes, go ahead and chalk up a W against Western Carolina -- Auburn can't really afford to sacrifice the rest of the season in the name of Johnson's redshirt. Auburn is playing well, and with A&M, Georgia and Alabama on the schedule, the Tigers have a chance to make some unexpected noise in Year 1 under Malzahn. We've seen what Wallace can do, and while he's serviceable, he isn't exactly a standout playmaker.
If Marshall is going to miss significant time, Malzahn is correct in getting an early start on the Johnson era. But if this is just a one-week stint for Johnson as starter, it may be a questionable decision to burn his redshirt.
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