Having the opportunity to watch Jeremy Johnson since his sophomore season at Carver-Montgomery, there was little doubt in my mind that he would be able to handle starting against Arkansas in the season opener and will be a star when he takes over full-time down the road.
Showing poise in the pocket and precision in the passing game, Johnson is a tremendous passer, but has the ability to run as well. In high school Johnson developed as a runner as he gained experience and confidence, something I believe will come with more playing time at Auburn. With the size and athleticism to be a downhill runner in the zone read, Johnson could be a major weapon in Gus Malzahn’s offense.
Artis-Payne Carries The Load
When Tre Mason left for the NFL after his record-setting season in 2013, senior Cameron Artis-Payne was one of the players being counted on to step up in his absence. He delivered in that role on Saturday, carrying the football 26 times for 177 yards and a touchdown.
Getting stronger as the game went along, Artis-Payne took over in the second half much like Mason from a year ago. Finding that player in Malzahn’s offense is a goal for 2014 and Artis-Payne went a long way towards earning that role with his performance against the Razorbacks.
Take Nothing For Grant-ed
Corey Grant has always been known as a speed guy since his days at Opelika High School, and rightfully so. One of the fastest players in the country this season, Grant can still run with anybody, but has added another dimension to his game.
Now bigger and stronger working with Auburn Strength and Conditioning Coach Ryan Russell, Grant is able to consistently run successfully between the tackles and has the power to finish his runs with force. That happened on several occasions Saturday when he rushed for 87 yards on 10 carries, including a touchdown up the middle through traffic. Showing that he has what it takes to get the job done between the tackles, Grant gives Auburn another weapon in the backfield in addition to his role as a speed back for the Tigers.
Stars Step Up
When Justin Garrett went down last season with an injury it opened the door for Robenson Therezie and the athletic defender ran through it, becoming one of the key players on defense for the Tigers. With Therezie’s availability in doubt this preseason it gave Garrett the opportunity to take backover the starting role at the "star" position in Ellis Johnson’s defense.
Despite getting cleared to play in games just one day before Saturday’s opener, Therezie once again showed his playmaking skills with a quarterback pressure on Brandon Allen leading to Jermaine Whitehead’s interception return for a touchdown. Garrett also showed up with several plays at the line of scrimmage in the running game. With both players healthy and ready to go Auburn’s versatility at the position should make the defense stronger as the Tigers get into the meat of the schedule in the coming weeks.
Replacing kicker Cody Parkey and punter Steven Clark was going to be tough enough for Auburn this year, but when the job fell on the shoulders of just one person it became an even more difficult task for redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson. On Saturday he didn’t show any of the nerves expected of a first-time player as he connected on a field goal from 45 yards with a 42-yarder hitting the uprights. He also had seven of eight kickoffs for touchbacks, something that is a huge bonus for the coverage team.
Those parts of his game weren’t a surprise, but I can’t say the same about his 53.3 yard average on three punts. Winning the punting job after being asked to give the position a shot in the preseason, Carlson looked poised in the role. Still learning the technique required to be consistent as a punter, there will likely be some bumps along the way for Carlson but it was a huge first appearance for the Colorado native.
Young Defenders Making Plays
Auburn’s youth on the defensive side of the ball got some valuable playing time in Saturday’s win over Arkansas, which is good news moving forward for the Tigers. Linebacker Tre Williams showed his knack of being around the football and also for getting into the backfield in blitz situations. In the secondary T.J. Davis was particularly impressive and could be one of the breakthrough stories for the Auburn defense this season if he continues to play well.
No player benefitted more from the experience than sophomore safety Johnathan Ford. Getting the start, Ford now has a game under his belt and that should help him not only with his learning curve at safety, but also with diagnosing the opposing offense on the run in the heat of battle.
Tre Williams chases Brandon Allen from Arkansas
Around The SEC
No question in my mind that Texas A&M was the big week one winner in the league following its blowout win over South Carolina on the road Thursday night. Kenny Hill was masterful in his shredding of the Gamecocks, making the Aggies a team that suddenly looks to be a threat in the SEC again in 2014. The biggest question still remains however, is the defense good enough to win a title?
Georgia and Todd Gurley took control in the second half in a dominant win over Clemson between the hedges at Sanford Stadium. No question the Tigers aren’t anywhere close to the team that has been a Top 10-type squad the last two years, but defensively they were supposed to be one of the top groups in the ACC. That’s definitely up for debate after the Bulldogs ran over, around and through them to the tune of 328 yards. Hutson Mason was efficient, but he still has to show he can push the ball down the field when teams take away the running game.
It wasn’t pretty, but Alabama got a 10-point win over West Virginia in the opener. Offensively, Alabama was dominant at the line of scrimmage with 288 rushing yards and quarterback Blake Sims was solid with 250 yards through the air on 24-33 passing. The biggest question remains on the defensive side of the ball as Alabama allowed 365 passing yards to Clint Trickett and the Mountaineers, and it could have been worse without a couple of key drops.
That continues a trend of Alabama struggling against up-tempo teams dating back to Auburn and Oklahoma last season. It’s something to watch this year Florida, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Auburn all on the roster this season.