When the Auburn offense takes the field against Louisville to open the 2015 football season, it will mark the 10th time over the past 30 seasons the Tigers started a new quarterback and running back during the same season.
The previous results were mixed, which included the lows of the 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2012 offenses along with the highs of 1986, 1994, 2005 and 2010 seasons. Four of the nine offenses with new starters at quarterback and running back managed to average more than 400 yards and 30 points per game. Those four teams combined for a record of 42-6-1 while the remaining six other teams combined for a record of 26-32-0.
The following are the previous nine Tigers teams that featured new starters at both quarterback and running back.
1986: Jeff Burger (QB) and Brent Fullwood (RB)
1994: Patrick Nix (QB) and Stephen Davis (RB)
1996: Dameyune Craig (QB) and Rusty Williams (RB)
1998: Ben Leard (QB) and Michael Burks (RB)
1999: Gabe Gross (QB) and Rusty Williams (RB)
2005: Brandon Cox (QB) and Kenny Irons (RB)
2010: Cameron Newton (QB) and Michael Dyer (RB)
The 1998 offense opened the season with Leard at quarterback and Burks at running back. Of the nine offenses listed above, the 1998 group had the weakest finish. It averaged only 270.2 yards and 15.1 points per game, finishing 3-8 on the season. Coach Terry Bowden left during the middle of the season and changes were made at quarterback and running back before season’s end.
The 2010 Auburn offense was the most successful of the group, averaging 499.2 yards and 41.2 points. The Tigers went undefeated that year, winning the national championship sparked by the play of Newton and Dyer.
Youth and injuries hobbled the 2001 offense with new starters Campbell and Williams. Three years later, the same combination at quarterback and running back would lead an impressive 2004 offense to a 13-0 season and a Southeastern Conference championship.
Cox and Irons had a solid 2005 season, leading an offense that averaged 410 yards and 32 points to a 9-3 record.
The 2012 Auburn offense suffered through a youth movement at quarterback with a new offensive coordinator along with a change in style of play. Like 1998 it would result in a dismal season and a head coaching change. Now Coach Gus Malzahn faces his second situation at Auburn of having to replace his starting quarterback and running back.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Jeremy Johnson will more than likely be the starting quarterback in 2015. The rising junior has two career starts under his belt, appearing in 13 games as an Auburn Tiger. He has completed 73 percent of passes for an extraordinary QB rating of 198.4.
Physically built like a prototypical NFL quarterback, Johnson also possesses the ability to make plays with his feet. Polished and composed in the pocket, Johnson should be comfortable as the starter having worked within the Malzahn offense the past two years. He will have plenty of surrounding talent, which will assist Johnson in reaching his full potential.
Replacing Cameron Artis-Payne won't be an easy task, but the talent and depth is present to make it a smoother transition.
Malzahn’s leading rusher has averaged nearly 1,400 yards per season during the past nine years. His 2015 offense is expected to feature 2014 backups Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber competing for the starting role vs. newcomers Jovon Robinson and Kerryon Johnson. Except for Johnson, who is still in high school, this is an important spring camp for the running backs to establish themselves as Artis-Payne’s replacement. Each looks to be more than capable of being Auburn’s next 1,000-yard rusher.
Jeremy Johnson started the 2014 season opener vs. Arkansas and the Western Carolina game in 2013.
With Jeremy Johnson’s ability as a passer, something defenses will have to respect, the opportunity should be there for the running backs to have plenty of chances to put up strong numbers this fall.
Given opportunities Auburn’s quarterbacks and running backs have prospered under the guidance of Malzahn. When his offense has attempted at least 20 passes Auburn averaged 215 yards passing per game. When the attempts rose to at least 25 the Tigers averaged 235 yards per game. During the games with at least 30 attempts Auburn averaged 287 yards per game.
Malzahn’s running backs at Auburn averaged 131 yards per game with at least 15 rushing attempts. With at least 20 attempts they averaged 140 yards per game and 160 yards with at least 25 attempts. Six of his last nine starting quarterbacks finished in the nation’s Top 20 in pass efficiency and six of his last nine starting running backs finished in the nation’s Top 25 of rushing.