JEREMY JOHNSON (PHOTO BY JASON CALDWELL)

Jason Caldwell's Monday Morning QB Column: The Stage Is Set--It's Iron Bowl Time Again

Auburn-Alabama football, quarterback Jeremy Johnson and a trip into the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament are stories this week on the AU sports scene.

Iron Bowl Time Again

It’s Iron Bowl week and while Auburn enters Saturday as a decided underdog, this group of Tigers on defense has kept their team in every game and I see no reason why that can’t be the case once again. Yes, Alabama is a very talented offense and quarterback Jalen Hurts is no longer a freshman after playing almost entire season as a starter, but much like the defense on the other side the Tigers’ success starts up front and this will once again be a game won or lost in the trenches.

Getting pressure on Hurts and containing him in the running game will be huge, but more important is Auburn’s ability to control the power run from Alabama. That isthe key to allowing Alabama to establish its offense and feed off the play-action game with Hurts taking shots down the field.

If the Tigers can force Alabama into obvious passing situations it would go a long way towards making this a four-quarter game. Allowing Alabama to control down and distance is to die a quick football death, something Auburn must avoid.

No matter how well the defense performs the Auburn offense is going to have to make plays if the Tigers hope to pull off the upset. Three weeks ago I wouldn't have labeled it as much of an upset at all the way the offense was playing, but injuries to Sean White and Kamryn Pettway have taken the steam out of the unit.

Getting Kerryon Johnson closer to full speed is a big first step, but getting White and Pettway back on the field is almost imperative. Even with them it's going to be tough sledding for Rhett Lashee's group. Without them it would take a special performance to pull out the win in Bryant-Denny Stadium, but we've seen one of those before.

True Team Player

It wasn’t the ending I expected for Jeremy Johnson’s home playing days when I first began watching him play quarterback for the Carver Wolverines. Sometimes you see a player and they’ve got all the tools to be a big-time performer. That is Johnson.

Big and athletic with a strong and accurate arm, Johnson has always been at his best standing in the pocket and throwing the football down the field. That is where he is most comfortable and when he has done the most damage.

What fans saw him do against Arkansas in the first half of the 2014 opener is what he made him a high school start in Montgomery. Unfortunately for him and Auburn, his transition to the zone read scheme didn’t go as smoothly as the Tigers hoped.

Struggling through some tough times on the field as the Tigers struggled early in 2015, Johnson thought about giving up the game several times after losing his starting spot. The latest of those came early this year when Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee decided to go with Sean White as the starting quarterback and put John Franklin as the backup.

Deciding he wanted to finish his collegiate days at Auburn, Johnson did anything and everything to help this team win games this season, including volunteering to play quarterback for the scout team. Swallowing your pride isn't very easy, but Johnson did that this year and his teammates definitely noticed as did the fans.

On Saturday at the Senior Night game Johnson got a loud ovation when announced as the starter and his touchdowns brought even bigger cheers from the crowd. After the game his teammates talked about how important this game was for the seniors, but it was especially important for them to win it for the senior quarterback.

When asked about the day for him, Johnson said he played for White and his teammates and that was his main focus. If that doesn’t tell you about this young man then nothing will.

Elite 8 For Hoppa’s Tigers

Ranked No. 12 in the country in the preseason poll, the Auburn women’s soccer team got some high praise from Coach Karen Hoppa. "On paper, coming into the season, it might be the best squad we've ever had," she said prior to the start of the year.

Due to injuries the Tigers didn’t get off to the kind of start they expected, finding themselves 3-3 following a 2-0 home loss to Southern Cal. Interestingly enough it’s those same Trojans the Tigers will face on Friday in the Elite Eight round after going on a tear to close out the regular season and now in the NCAA Tournament.

With 15 NCAA Tournament appearances in 18 seasons, Hoppa's program has been the model of consistency and the Tigers have been improving. Last season the Tigers advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history and with a 3-1 road win over longtime nemesis Florida on Sunday,  their second of the season vs. the Gators, they are moving up in the world of NCAA Women’s Soccer with a team that has talent, depth, good chemistry and strong desire make this season a memorable one.

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