Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson not living up to preseason hype

Auburn junior quarterback Jeremy Johnson has five interceptions in the Tigers' first two games. Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

AUBURN, Ala. -- Jeremy Johnson threw two more interceptions Saturday, and it nearly cost Auburn the game against Jacksonville State, a 41-point underdog going in. The Tigers needed overtime to squeak out the 27-20 victory.

Yet Johnson didn’t seem worried afterward. There was no real concern, no sense of urgency from the Auburn quarterback at his postgame news conference.

“It’s football. Interceptions are going to happen,” Johnson said. “All the greats throw interceptions. I feel really good about where this team is at and where I’m at. I have a lot of confidence in myself and so does my team.”

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn took some of the blame when asked about his quarterback’s struggles and inconsistency through the first two games.

“I thought Jeremy did some good things [Saturday], but I need to help Jeremy too,” Malzahn said. “I need to help put him in some better situations at times. It all works together.”

And as you’d expect, Johnson’s teammates still believe in him. They’ve seen how good he has been in the past and how good he is every day in practice.

“Jeremy is a great quarterback,” Auburn wide receiver Melvin Ray said. “He doesn’t make those mistakes coming into these games. People don’t see what we see on the practice field and in the scrimmages. He’ll figure it out. He’ll get it together.”

But maybe now is the time to start worrying.

The three interceptions in Week 1 against Louisville were bad, but it was the season opener and it was Johnson’s first start as Auburn’s No. 1 quarterback. You could chalk those up to first-game jitters. But there was no excuse for the two Saturday against Jacksonville State. Auburn was at home, against an FCS opponent, and twice Johnson threw it right to an opposing player.

“Sometimes we call plays to the wrong defense,” Johnson said. “Still, I made a bad mistake throwing the interception[s] right to the guys. But it was all good. I just have to take what they give me.”

Is it all good? Johnson has thrown five interceptions, and we’re not even through the first month. That’s the most interceptions an SEC quarterback has thrown in the first two games of a season since 2009, when Tennessee’s Jonathan Crompton threw five.

This is the same guy who is supposed to lead Auburn to an SEC championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff, the same player who some thought might even be a Heisman Trophy contender by season’s end.

Did we jump the gun a little bit?

Sure, Johnson has looked great when he has played in the past, but the sample size was small. He’s already attempted more passes in two games this season than he did in either of his first two years on campus. As a freshman, he played significant minutes in only two games, against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic. Last year, he started and played the first half against Arkansas, but he didn’t attempt more than five passes in a game the rest of the season.

When you’re No. 1 on the depth chart, there’s added pressure.

“This is his first year really owning the offense, and I think sometimes it just goes a little fast,” Ray said. “But he’ll be fine. He’s very smart. He can make all the throws. And we think he’ll get there.”

Johnson had better get there quickly, because SEC play begins this week and Auburn opens with a trip to LSU. It will be the quarterback’s first start on the road, and Death Valley will not welcome him kindly.

“I’m not worried at all,” Johnson said. “I know it’s going to be a great atmosphere, great team. All we can do is just get better from this point and get ready for LSU.”

That’s the type of confidence you want from your quarterback, but how real is that confidence at this point? It’s one thing to be confident at the lectern after a game. It’s another thing to be that way after you’ve thrown an interception, or five.

Now would be an opportune time for Johnson to regain his form. The fate of Auburn’s season likely depends on it.