AUBURN, Ala. — Jeremy Johnson will be No. 6 Auburn’s starting quarterback against Arkansas, and Nick Marshall will play in the game at some point.
That’s about all Tigers coach Gus Malzahn would say about the situation on Tuesday. He had previously said Marshall and cornerback Jonathon Mincy would not start the opener after legal issues over the summer.
Malzahn didn’t give a hint on when Marshall will take his first snap on Saturday but said that “we have a plan and they know the plan.”
Previously, he hadn’t even acknowledged that Johnson would open the game but said the sophomore has known for some time.
The dual-threat Marshall led Auburn to the Southeastern Conference championship and national title game last season after transferring from junior college. He passed for 1,976 yards and ran for 1,068, accounting for 26 touchdowns and directing the first SEC offense to lead the nation in rushing.
His mother paid the $1,100 fines after Marshall was cited for marijuana possession and a window tint violation during a July 11 traffic stop in Georgia. He wasn’t arrested.
Josh Holsey will start for Mincy, who also will play against Arkansas, Malzahn said. Mincy, who has 29 career starts, was arrested and charged with second-degree possession of marijuana in June.
Starting defensive back Robenson Therezie wasn’t listed on the depth chart released Tuesday. Malzahn has said he is dealing with eligibility issues but didn’t elaborate on what those are or when Therezie might return.
The uncertainty isn’t fazing Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.
“I don’t know how long their quarterback’s not going to be in there, but their second-string quarterback is a very good player,” Bielema said Monday. “Who knows how long the second-string corner is going to be in there, and their second-string corner is a good player. Who knows if the safety’s going to play.
“There’s a lot of unknown things but what matters is the 11 guys who are going to suit up for Auburn are going to be well coached.”
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Johnson, Alabama’s high school Mr. Football two years ago, started one nonconference game and played most of the way in another when Marshall was injured.
He was 29-of-41 passing for 422 yards and rushed only seven times for 47 yards. Johnson threw for six touchdowns and was intercepted twice.
Malzahn said there’s nothing in the offense that they’re worried about Johnson handling. That would include the zone read that became Auburn’s bread and butter last season with Marshall and tailbacks led by Tre Mason.
“He’s a lot like Nick. He went through the season, learned the offense on the go,” Malzahn said of Johnson. “Then we had a chance in the spring, gave him a lot of reps.
“He was already pretty familiar with this style of offense because he did something very similar in high school. We have a lot of confidence in him to run our entire offense. He’s very talented. I mean, the two games he played last year he was the freshman SEC offensive player of the week.”
The coaches had already decided that Johnson would play a bigger role this season. He’s expected to be the front-runner to replace Marshall in the 2015 season.
Tailback Cameron Artis-Payne said he’s been impressed by Johnson’s maturity, passing and ability to read defenses. Guard Chad Slade echoed the confidence level.
“It’s just like if Nick was back there,” Slade said. “He’s a leader on the team. Jeremy’s a leader. You really can’t tell a difference.”