Auburn Tigers: Jonathan Wallace

Week 7 helmet stickers

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
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AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn set a school record with 712 yards of offense Saturday as they trounced Western Carolina, 62-3, on Homecoming. Now let’s hand out some helmet stickers from the Tigers’ dominant performance.

QB Jeremy Johnson: The big storyline of the day was Johnson who received his first start in place of the injured Nick Marshall at quarterback. In fact, it was Johnson’s first ever appearance at Auburn. The freshman had yet to take a snap for the Tigers, but the coaches opted to do away with his redshirt and give the former ESPN 300 signal caller a chance. Johnson took advantage of the opportunity. He went 17 of 21 for 201 yards. He threw four touchdowns and just one interception. His fourth touchdown pass came on the opening drive of the second half before he gave way to backup quarterback Jonathan Wallace.

The offensive line: When a team rushes for 511 yards, it’s hard to single out just one guy. At some point, you have to give credit to the hogs up front. Auburn’s offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage and paved the way for whomever was coming out of the backfield. The unit also provided plenty of time for Johnson to throw, which was key in his first start. The only significant change to the starting lineup was Avery Young, who got his first start at right tackle Saturday. As a group, the offensive line has quietly been one of the strengths for this Auburn football team. The Tigers are among the SEC leaders in rushing yards and fewest sacks allowed.

CB Johnathan Ford: In high school, Ford made his mark playing running back. When he arrived at Auburn, they moved him over to defensive back because of depth concerns. On Saturday, he did a little bit of everything. The freshman athlete played cornerback for most of the day, but with the game already in hand, coach Gus Malzahn tried him out on offense. He rushed twice for 45 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown run. The all-around performance earned high praise from Malzahn, and although he might not play as much in meaningful games, the future certainly looks bright for Ford.

Honorable mention: RB Cameron Artis-Payne
AUBURN, Ala. -- Freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson looked mighty impressive in his debut for Auburn. But after the 62-3 win over Western Carolina, head coach Gus Malzahn was quick to smother any talk of a potential quarterback controversy.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Johnson
John Reed/USA TODAY SportsWith a four touchdown performance, Jeremy Johnson proved he can step in for Auburn is Nick Marshall can't return from injury.
“I want to make it clear -- Nick Marshall is our starting quarterback,” Malzahn said. “When Nick is 100 percent, he will be back.”

On Friday night, Malzahn announced that Johnson would get the start over Marshall who was still nursing a knee injury he suffered last weekend against Ole Miss. The former ESPN 300 recruit, making his first appearance of the season, took full advantage of the opportunity.

Albeit against a lesser opponent, Johnson finished 17-of-21 for 201 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. He gave way to backup Jonathan Wallace early in the third quarter.

“It was great,” Johnson said. “I enjoyed every bit of it. You never know when an opportunity comes, and I just prayed overnight and stayed focused.”

The heralded freshman, who was a four-star, ESPN 300-rated prospect, admitted that he was nervous before the game. After he completed his first pass, a 15-yard strike to Trovon Reed, he fell into a rhythm. He completed his first four passes, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jay Prosch.

“I wasn’t really expecting to receive the ball on the play,” Prosch said. “It kind of caught me off guard, but it was awesome. I thought [Jeremy] did great. Sometimes it is hard to hear out there, and he was really loud. He was really prepared.”

On the next drive, Johnson vastly under threw Ricardo Louis on a potential touchdown. The strong-armed quarterback went right back to Louis on the next play, hitting him in stride for a 46-yard score.

The only mistake Johnson made came on a deep ball when he threw it up for grabs, and Western Carolina came down with it. Still, it was a positive debut for the freshman.

“I think he made some good decisions early,” Malzahn said. “The line protected him extremely well. He’s been playing very well in practice, and that carried over today.”

While Malzahn squelched any talk of a QB change, it remains to be seen if and when Marshall will be healthy enough to return.

The junior college transfer started the first five games, leading the Tigers to a 4-1 record. He’s thrown for 902 yards, rushed for 288 yards and scored six total touchdowns. But will he be 100 percent when they visit Texas A&M next weekend?

“He’s just taking his time to get healthy,” running back Tre Mason said. “I’m pretty sure he’s fine, and he’ll most likely be back next week. He’s the leader of the team. He’s a real positive leader, and he’s helping Jeremy in all aspects of his game.”

Even his counterpart believes Marshall will return against the Aggies.

“Nick is doing better,” Johnson said. “He’s about 80 percent right now, so he’s going to be back next week and ready.”

However, if for some reason Marshall can’t go, Johnson proved that he’s more than capable of stepping in and directing this offense. The coaches felt it was best to do away with the redshirt and make sure Johnson is available when needed.

“Everybody has got a role on the team, and really I’m playing my role,” Johnson said. “Nick is the starter, and Nick’s going to start from this point on, but if anything happens, I know I’m going to be ready because coach keeps me prepared."

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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1. Will Clowney play?: There have been a lot of rumors flying around about South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and his last-minute decision to sit out against Kentucky. It didn’t go over well with coach Steve Spurrier based on the postgame comments. However, Spurrier defended his star player this week. Once again, Clowney is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Arkansas with a muscle strain near his rib area. He returned to practice on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Getty ImagesJames Franklin and Missouri can prove they're legit SEC contenders with a win at Georgia on Saturday.
2. Health concerns at UGA: The Bulldogs survived a scare in Knoxville last weekend, but they didn’t come out unscathed. They lost both running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending injuries while fellow wide receiver Michael Bennett will miss an extended period of time with a knee injury. Georgia will have to bounce back quickly with No. 25 Missouri coming to town on Saturday.

3. Mizzou a legitimate contender? It’s safe to say nobody had Missouri as one of the two unbeaten teams in the SEC heading into Week 7. But after an impressive road win at Vanderbilt, the Tigers are 5-0 and finally starting to gain some respect around the league. The next three weeks will be telling, though, as they play Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

4. LSU’s WRs versus Florida’s CBs: It’s a dream matchup for NFL scouts. LSU features what many consider to be the top wide receiver tandem in college football with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. However, Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy is arguably the top cornerback in the SEC, and playing opposite of him is freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who already has three interceptions. The Gators are also expecting the return of corner Marcus Roberson, another one who could soon be playing on Sundays.

5. Tyler Murphy in Death Valley: Since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel at quarterback, Murphy has exceeded expectations for the Gators. In three games, he has thrown for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception, and he’s progressively gotten better. However, the junior signal-caller is in for his toughest assignment yet when Florida travels to LSU this weekend. How will he perform in a hostile atmosphere?

6. The return of Cooper: When will we see the real Amari Cooper, the one who had 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman for Alabama? The star wide receiver has been slowed by nagging injuries all season, but he expects to play Saturday against Kentucky. Will he be 100 percent? Quarterback AJ McCarron would love to have him back sooner rather than later.

7. Aggies without Ennis: As if Texas A&M’s rush defense wasn’t bad enough, the Aggies lost Kirby Ennis, one of their top interior linemen, for the season with a torn ACL. The injury comes at a bad time for the Aggies, who have to visit Ole Miss this weekend and deal with Rebels running back Jeff Scott, not to mention quarterback Bo Wallace. The staff will turn to freshman Isaiah Golden, who is expected to start alongside Alonzo Williams in the middle.

8. Shootout in Oxford: The SEC has featured its fair share of shootouts early in the college football season, and Saturday’s game between Ole Miss and Texas A&M could be right up there. Both teams feature an up-tempo offense, and neither one likes to waste much time between plays. It could be a long day for both defenses.

9. Big game for Bielema: After a 3-0 start, Arkansas has quickly fallen back to .500 with three consecutive losses. However, first-year coach Brett Bielema has a chance to notch his first signature victory with the Razorbacks this Saturday when they host No. 14 South Carolina. The Gamecocks have struggled in recent weeks and could be prime for an upset. It’s likely a must-win scenario for Arkansas if the Hogs want to reach a bowl game.

10. Auburn’s quarterback: Who will start for the Tigers against Western Carolina? Starter Nick Marshall injured his knee last weekend against Ole Miss, and although he’s expected to play, coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t made a ruling one way or the other. If Marshall can’t go, Auburn will either turn to returning starter Jonathan Wallace or true freshman Jeremy Johnson.

Planning for success: Auburn

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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AUBURN, Ala. -- It’s Homecoming week which means a lesser opponent for Auburn on Saturday, but that doesn’t change anything for the Tigers. They’re treating Western Carolina like any other team, even with Texas A&M looming.

“There's a lot of different philosophies,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “Some people want to spend a week and just work on the next opponent and some people don't.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Wallace
John Reed/US PRESSWIRECould backup quarterback Jonathan Wallace see some action for the Tigers vs. Western Carolina?
“We're more of the mind-set that we want to treat it (like a regular game). We want to try to keep things consistent for our guys. So for the most part, it's going to be a normal game week. We’re preparing for one opponent, and we’re not really going to work ahead at all.”

Auburn is 2-0 against Western Carolina, including a 56-0 win over the Catamounts in 2002, their most recent meeting.

What Auburn needs to do to win: It’s safe to say Auburn will likely win the game, but it’s not as much about the outcome or the final score as it is about the team playing well and improving. The Tigers are currently riding a wave of momentum, and they want to continue that through this weekend and into the Texas A&M game. Western Carolina has given up more than 40 points in four games this season, so the offense should have no trouble moving the ball. It would be a victory for the defense, which has given up their fair share of yards, to keep the Catamounts out of the end zone or off the scoreboard altogether.

Players to watch

Auburn QB Jonathan Wallace: Starting quarterback Nick Marshall suffered a minor knee injury against Ole Miss, and although it’s likely he’ll play, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t ruled one way or the other yet. If Marshall can’t go, Wallace is next in line to get the start. He started four games for the Tigers a year ago.

Auburn DT Montravius Adams: How much will he play? Adams suffered a leg bruise which kept him out of the second half against Ole Miss. The coaches say he’s fine, but it will be interesting to see how much he actually plays Saturday. If he does suit up, he’ll be hungry to match the performance fellow freshman Carl Lawson had last weekend.

Quotable
“Whenever you have one of your players carted off, that is one of the worse feelings you can have as a coach. I looked up and saw him back on the sidelines standing up and moving with a smile on his face. That gave me a lift, and I am sure it gave the rest of our coaches and players a lift, too.” -- Gus Malzahn on Cassanova McKinzy’s neck injury from Saturday
The starting quarterback was named weeks ago, but Auburn released the rest of its two-deep depth chart Wednesday in preparation for Saturday’s opener against Washington State.

As expected, junior college transfer Nick Marshall was the first-team quarterback with returning starter Jonathan Wallace and true freshman Jeremy Johnson listed as the co-backups. Former quarterback Kiehl Frazier also made the depth chart, but on defense, a move he made during fall camp. He’ll serve as the No. 2 boundary safety behind Joshua Holsey.

“I think everyday he feels more comfortable,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. "It’s like anything else -- the more you do, the better you’ll get at it. He’s a competitor. He’s a smart football player. He understands offensive concepts. There’s a good chance he’ll be out on the field [Saturday].”

Returning starter Jermaine Whitehead will man the other safety position with junior Justin Garrett getting the nod at Star, a new position specific to Ellis Johnson’s defensive scheme. Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy will start at cornerback for the Tigers.

The defensive line will be without its top pass-rusher Dee Ford for Saturday’s game, but Craig Sanders and former linebacker LaDarius Owens will fill in and start opposite of each other at defensive end. Inside, it will be Angelo Blackmon and either Jeffrey Whitaker or Gabe Wright at the two defensive tackle spots.

A trio of true freshmen defensive linemen -- Montravius Adams, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson -- were all listed on the depth chart as well as juco defensive tackle Ben Bradley. Malzahn expects a majority of the freshmen to play Saturday, headlined by this group.

“Coach [Rodney] Garner, he's going to rotate a lot of guys, especially when you're playing a team that's going to throw it a lot,” Malzahn said.

In all, there were eight true freshmen who made the depth chart.

As for the offensive line, the only big unknown was at right tackle where sophomore Patrick Miller won the starting job. Miller’s backup Avery Young earned praise during fall camp, and although he won’t start, he has the ability to back up multiple spots on the line.

“Avery's an athlete,” Malzahn said. “He can play all five positions if he had to because he's very versatile and very athletic.”

Greg Robinson will start the other tackle spot opposite Miller with Alex Kozan and Chad Slade penciled in at guard. At center, it will be Reese Dismukes, who’s started there the last two seasons for the Tigers. He made the Rimington Trophy Watch List preseason.

The skill players are highlighted by running back Tre Mason, who was one of the few bright spots last season for Auburn with more than a 1,000 yards rushing. He’ll get the start, but Malzahn expects juco star Cameron Artis-Payne to make an impact.

“They're pretty much on equal ground right now going into this first game,” Malzahn said. “They've both had an outstanding fall camp. Corey Grant's a guy you could see in the mix, too. The best thing is we feel like we've got some quality depth at the running back position going in. You can never have enough of that.”

Auburn will kick off Saturday at 7 p.m ET against the Cougars.

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