To review, Auburn – a popular pick to win the SEC this season – barely survived 0-3 Louisville, needed overtime to beat Jacksonville State at home, and got thumped by LSU, 45-21.
At this point, what was more overrated: Will Muschamp fixing the Tigers’ much-maligned defense, or Jeremy Johnson leading a high-powered offense?
“Well, Jeremy Johnson – and I’ll admit I played a major part in that in overrating him,” Bleacher Report SEC writer Barrett Sallee said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I understand cynics in August saying, ‘Well, this kid hasn’t done anything. Why does he get all the hype?’ I understand that completely. But there was nothing to suggest he simply could not read defenses – and he cannot read defenses. He was good in the times that we saw him over the last two years. He can’t recognize simple underneath defenses, and that is something that D-III quarterbacks can recognize. So yeah, it’s definitely Jeremy Johnson. He’s lost his confidence, he’s clearly rattled, he’s got happy feet, he’s indecisive, he’s taking gloves on, he’s taking gloves off – it’s a mess. He is absolutely a mess.
“Will Muschamp, I think, can fix that defense,” Sallee continued. “But I don’t think that they are capable of playing good defense without Carl Lawson (hip) – and Carl Lawson hasn’t been healthy since the middle of the second quarter of Game 1. And since then, the defense has just been awful. But when he was in, they actually played okay. So I think Will Muschamp still has a chance assuming Carl Lawson gets back, but that’s kind of doubtful for now. But man, Jeremy Johnson is just a mess at this point.”
Johnson has thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions through three games. How can Gus Malzahn fix him or at least make him serviceable so that this season doesn’t go down the drain?
Sallee’s take? Let Johnson run more.
“You saw them run him more a little bit in that second half against LSU,” Sallee said. “I thought they’d do it more in the first half, to be honest with you. I’m honestly surprised and a little disappointed that they didn’t – because he actually is a very good runner.”
Johnson had a 65-yard touchdown run to open the second half against LSU.
“He’s got some wheels for a big guy,” Sallee said. “They really haven’t had that element in their offense at all until the second half of the LSU game, when everything was sort of out of reach anyway, but who knows? Maybe that gets him more comfortable just in general – because right now, he’s clearly not comfortable. Maybe that helps him settle down a little bit and he focuses on two or three things that he can do well and then (they) build off of that. But it’s very clear that they cannot have the offense that they had planned on.
“And I’ve talked to the coaches,” Sallee continued. “They’ve seen nothing like this in practice – nothing like this was even thought of as a possibility that they’d have to scrap everything three games in and try something new. But they can’t trust him. They don’t trust him. And getting him involved in the running game, I think, is at least something to get him a taste of some success of any kind, and maybe that will settle him down and give him some confidence and they can build from there.”
Auburn (2-1) hosts Mississippi State (2-1) this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET.