Jeremy Johnson vows to get back to being himself

ATLANTA -- Jeremy Johnson won't win the Heisman Trophy.

He's not fit to win SEC Player of the Year.

He's overrated.

His backup better get ready.

Auburn's championship hopes are finished.

Those were the kinds of knee-jerk reactions the college football world offered after Johnson's erratic performance in Auburn's Week 1 win over Louisville inside the Georgia Dome.

Yes, win!

Johnson, making just his third career start, was far from Heisman-worthy on Saturday (11-of-21, 137 passing yards, one touchdown and three interceptions), but he also didn't erase his chances at hoisting the bronze award or flush his Tigers' dream season away.

“I was just trying to make the big plays too early in the game," Johnson said after Auburn's 31-24 win. "That’s a mental mistake by me. I’m going to learn from it.

“I know that’s not me and I know I could have performed a lot better.”

Yes, Johnson, who has been crowned as the next great thing in the SEC, could have -- and should have -- played a lot better, but it was his first game as Auburn's true starting quarterback. The pressure was finally on him after he made two past starts with the real QB -- Nick Marshall -- waiting in the wings. This is now Johnson's team, and when you sit for so long, you're bound to try to impress too soon. You're bound to make mistakes and be impatient. You're bound to miss your check downs and throw three awful interceptions -- one into triple coverage -- with national championship aspirations on the line in front of the entire country.

"Jeremy's going to be fine," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "I've got as much confidence, if not more, in Jeremy than I had before the game. Jeremy was pressing. He was trying to make some plays. That happens. He did make several uncharacteristic decisions of himself. He knows that cost us and we can't do that. There's nobody more disappointed and ready to atone for their mistakes than Jeremy, and I think the best thing is you learn from your mistakes in a win, it's a lot more fun than learning from them in a loss."

Just R-E-L-A-X, folks.

Sure, you don't want your quarterback coming out just wildly slinging the football around, not taking the time to adjust and read defenses. Johnson missed wide open guys at times because he tried to hit the home-run ball whenever anyone made a break for the end zone.

Not smart.

All three of his interceptions were ill-advised and thrown right to defenders. Johnson's lucky he kept his pick number to three because the Cardinals dropped a couple more.

Talking with an opposing coach about Johnson's performance, he said Johnson will have to change some of his habits and hinted that on some similarly dangerous throws he made last year, things worked out because defenders failed to make plays on the ball.

So Johnson still has some developing to do. Learning and evolving are the keys.

But remember, Johnson made nice throws, too. He spread the ball around to six different pass-catchers, he had a beautiful 33-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis and he had a perfectly thrown, 56-yard touchdown pass to a sprinting Jason Smith called back because of holding. If that play stood, Auburn would have gone up 31-3 late in the third quarter. Instead, Johnson got careless and forced a pass that was intercepted at the Tigers' 49.

Johnson's performance reminded me of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett's miserable start against Virginia Tech last year. In his second start of the season, Barrett completed 9 of 29 passes for 219 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions ... in a loss.

Barrett and Ohio State more than regrouped and won something kind of big at the end of the season.

I'm not saying Johnson will be Barrett, but let's not get carried away with the "overrated" chants.

“First game, everybody has those jitters," cornerback Jonathan Jones said.

“He made mistakes, but that’s part of the game. … I didn’t lose any confidence in him.”