"I don't think he made one bad decision all game." That's what Rhett Lashlee had to say about Jeremy Johnson's performance against Idaho last Saturday. Pretty good, huh? Of course, when I rewatched it, he did have a few inaccurate passes, but it's true that a lot of his incompletions were drops. Even more interesting was his decision making in the run game. Almost like he has found a bit of Nick Marshall in him. That would be nice.
Johnson ran the read option and kept it at least four times throughout the game. The first run went for about 20 yards because the Idaho defenders didn't respect it all. The third time it went for no gain as the safety correctly took the quarterback and got Johnson going immediately toward the sideline.
But the second and fourth times were at the goal line and were perfect times for Johnson to keep it. As we've discussed this year, Auburn has had a bit of trouble in the red zone, largely because the safeties can play the run game more aggressively and neither Johnson nor Sean White have been able to make them pay through the air. So what you get is a corner matched up on each receiver and every other defender in the box. When that happens, just as it did against Idaho, the defense has a numbers advantage in the run game, especially if the quarterback isn't a threat. But if he is...
One thing a defense can do to combat a spread running game is to blitz a corner. This works particularly well against the Wildcat since there is very little chance of a pass being thrown, but it can be effective against more typical formations. Unless the quarterback has an eye out for it and throws to the wide open receiver, that is.
Johnson caught Idaho doing this three times and he connected with Tony Stevens each time, once for a touchdown. No offensive lineman ever reached three yards downfield and no other receiver committed pass interference, so they were all perfectly legal plays. Of course, we knew Johnson could do this since last year's Arkansas game, but it's nice to see it being used again.
Something else that was nice to see again was the deep bomb. Auburn has struggled to find a deep threat at wide receiver this year, though Ricardo Louis has had his moments. And even when the receivers do go deep, Gus has had to actually yell at Sean to throw the ball, or the quarterback has refused to actually throw it, like in the Georgia game. But throwing deep on occasion helps the rest of the offense even if it's not always caught.
Johnson threw deep to Louis at least twice in this game, one of which was a catch that was overturned by review, but the other was a great throw and catch. Auburn called for double posts to the field, meaning both Louis on the outside and Melvin Ray on the inside ran deep post routes. The safety was responsible for the inside receiver once he went deep, which meant the corner was matched up on Louis one on one. Louis beat his man by a step or more, making the throw an easy one for Johnson.
So, what's all this mean for the Iron Bowl? Probably not much. After all, Idaho is a long way from Alabama and there are no more small potatoes. Instead, there is an elephant in the room. (all hat tips to the one and only Kevin Scarbinsky). But it's nice to see that Jeremy Johnson can run more of the offense than what he had shown through much of the season. And we all know that Malzahn will have a few tricks up of his sleeve.
He's always saved a few for the Iron Bowl. Whether it was true trick plays like the double passes, reverses, and onside kicks like in 2009. Or the constraint plays for constraint plays like the fake bubble screens or Onterrio McCallebb running up the middle in 2010. Or the heavy use of packaged plays in 2013.
Dameyune Craig recently said that Auburn had a little package they planned on using against Idaho but didn't get to. He then said he hoped to get to it next week. Sounds fun. It better be good, though. The Tide is good this year. And, no, generally you can't throw out the record books in this game. And Nick Saban was studying Auburn's A-Day game all summer. They will be ready. But I believe our Tigers will be ready, too. War Eagle.