AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn is in the midst of a quarterback battle and must replace eight starters on offense, but the spotlight during Saturday’s spring game was on the defense and new coordinator Will Muschamp.
Sure, Jeremy Johnson was impressive – he completed 14 of 22 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns – but with a final score of 24-14, this was the lowest-scoring spring game since Gus Malzahn was hired at Auburn.
You didn’t think Muschamp was going to let the first-team offense hang 58 points on one of his defenses, did you? This wasn’t last year’s spring game. This is a new year and a new defense.
“The [defense] was flying around,” Malzahn said after the game. “They’re playing hard. What is this, the lowest-scoring spring game that we’ve had? There were so many punts, so I thought they did really good things.”
Here are five more observations from Saturday’s spring game.
1. Johnson as advertised: You saw the stats. Johnson was good, not great Saturday. He showed off his big arm on long touchdown passes to D'haquille Williams and Myron Burton, but missed Williams on a handful of throws that the two have made look easy in the past. More importantly, Johnson didn’t run the ball once. We’ve heard all spring how the offense isn’t going to change going from Nick Marshall to Johnson, but they are different players. It’s possible that the coaches didn’t want Johnson to run, either to keep him healthy or because he was wearing a noncontact jersey, but it’s more likely that the offense is evolving with him under center.
2. Bright future at quarterback: Auburn is in good hands at quarterback for years to come. In the SEC, where quarterback battles and inexperience at the position have become the norm, having too many quarterbacks is a good problem to have. Redshirt freshman Sean White, who is still "competing" with Johnson for the starting job, looked good in his first game atmosphere at Auburn. He finished 15-of-19 for 109 yards against the first-team defense. Behind him is Tyler Queen, a true freshman who graduated high school early to compete this spring. He showed flashes, throwing a 35-yard touchdown pass in the second half.
3. Roc solid: Junior-college transfer Jovon Robinson got the first carry with the first-team offense, but it was Roc Thomas who walked away as the favorite to win the starting job. Thomas bounced his first carry outside and took it 36 yards for a touchdown. He finished the day with seven carries for 69 yards, one catch for 12 yards and two touchdowns. Obviously, the competition isn’t over yet. All three backs – Robinson, Thomas and Peyton Barber – got reps with the first-team offense at one point or another Saturday, but the coaches had to be impressed with what Thomas did in his first spring game at Auburn.
4. Incomplete grade on defense: It was an impressive debut for Muschamp at Auburn, especially considering that he was without two of his top players on defense: Carl Lawson and Jonathan Jones. Lawson is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last spring and Jones recently had surgery to repair a nagging foot injury that kept him out of the majority of spring practice. Both are expected to be back when the Tigers open fall camp. Muschamp had to be happy to see Tray Matthews back there patrolling the secondary. The former Georgia safety earned MVP honors with five tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
5. New names, new faces: The spring game is an opportunity for younger players or players with little to no experience to make an impression. Burton did just that Saturday. The redshirt freshman led the team with seven catches for 124 yards and a touchdown, making a case for more playing time this fall. On defense, walk-on Michael Sherwood made the most of his opportunity. Sherwood started in place of the injured Jones on the first-team defense and finished with a team-high seven tackles and one pass breakup. The sophomore corner earned rave reviews from teammates and coaches throughout the spring.