NCAA FB

Wait finally over for Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Jeremy Johnson's Auburn teammates believe the preseason hype for their new quarterback is warranted.

Big, strong-armed and accurate, Johnson has been maybe the most talked about backup passer in college football not wearing an Ohio State jersey. He's thrived in two starts and in a backup role to Nick Marshall the past two seasons.

And if anybody's concerned that Johnson hasn't been The Guy since high school, it doesn't show in the expectations for the sixth-ranked Tigers, who are a popular pick to win the Southeastern Conference.

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They open Saturday against Louisville in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

Wide receiver Ricardo Louis said Johnson is worthy of the buzz.

''Yeah, he definitely is,'' Louis said. ''I've seen him make some throws that I've never seen any quarterback make, right on the money every time. He's consistent. That's what makes him better than most of the quarterbacks I've seen.''

Johnson will have a tough act to follow, except that he's so different from the smaller, lightning bug-quick Nick Marshall. Now a cornerback for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Marshall thrived running the zone read and ran for 11 touchdowns last season.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Johnson might be a running threat, too, but his action on the field has been far more notable for his passing. Johnson has completed 73 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns against two interceptions in 13 career games.

He was terrific in his lone start last season. Johnson started the opener against Arkansas with eight straight completions while Marshall was suspended for the first half.

He passed for 243 yards in the half, the first Auburn quarterback to produce 200-plus yards in a half since Cam Newton during the 2010 national championship season.

Johnson is also the first college quarterback coach Gus Malzahn has had for three years in his offense.

''He's got everything it takes, I believe, to be a very successful quarterback,'' Malzahn said.

That includes running and being a zone read threat, key ingredients for Malzahn's best quarterbacks, including Marshall and Newton.

The coach said Johnson has plenty of running ability, and he's certainly athletic enough. The junior was one of the state's top basketball players in high school as well, leading Carver-Montgomery to the 2012 state championship.

''He's a big guy and he can really run,'' Malzahn said. ''North-South, he can really get it done. He'll run it when he has to run it and he'll throw it when he has to throw it.

''We have confidence he can make all the throws.''

Chances are many of Johnson's throws will go to wide receiver D'haquille Williams, which has the makings of being one of Auburn's better passing combos in recent memory. The Tigers seem almost certain to become more pass oriented two years after fielding the nation's top rushing attack.

But despite all the hype, coaches and teammates have said they didn't hear grumbling from Johnson when he was mostly confined to the sidelines after being one of the top signees in Malzahn's first recruiting class. It's hard to overtake a quarterback who led the team to the national championship game in his first season.

Johnson now downplays any frustration during a two-year wait.

''Like I said in the beginning, God has a plan for everybody,'' he said. ''That was his plan for me to sit out and just be patient to wait my time.''