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September 22, 2014

Auburn football: Johnson to make second career start, Marshall will ‘definitely play’

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Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2014 4:50 pm | Updated: 4:53 pm, Tue Aug 26, 2014.

AUBURN — It'll be back to The Future Part II on the Plains on Saturday.

Jeremy Johnson will start at quarterback when No. 6 Auburn hosts Arkansas in the season opener. It’s a formality Tigers coach Gus Malzahn officially announced Tuesday.

"Jeremy Johnson will start and then Nick Marshall will play," Malzahn said. "I'm not ready to say exactly when and all that, but he definitely will play."

Malzahn announced Josh Holsey would start at boundary cornerback in place of Jonathon Mincy, who like Marshall also will play.

Marshall and Mincy both had marijuana-related run-ins with the law over the summer, and because they are believed to be first-time offenders of Auburn's drug policy, their punishment is left up to Malzahn's discretion.

Asked several times how Johnson and Marshall, the Heisman Trophy contender, will split first-team reps in practice and what could affect the time Marshall is sent onto the field, including the score, Malzahn repeatedly said he and his staff "have a plan" but would not divulge any details.

"We have a plan and we're going to stick with that," Malzahn said. "I'm not going to sit here and tell everybody exactly what our plan is, but we do have a plan. We feel very good about it."

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said he told both quarterbacks to "be ready to play" and that's exactly what will happen Saturday.

Malzahn said Johnson has known he would be making the biggest start of his life for "a while."

Johnson made one start, against lowly Western Carolina, and played three quarters against Florida Atlantic last season. The former Alabama Mr. Football threw for 422 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions and completed 70.7 percent of his passes.

Though it's unclear when Johnson will get the hook, Malzahn is not concerned with the sophomore making his first career SEC start.

"We have a lot of confidence in him," Malzahn said. "He knows the whole playbook. There's not one thing that I would say we're concerned about."

As of Aug. 16, Johnson said he was unaware if he'd be starting, even when it was clearly the case.

As Malzahn dragged out the situation over three weeks since announcing Marshall would not start, Johnson’s approach displayed his ability to handle pressure off the field.

"He takes it serious as far as football," running back Cameron Artis-Payne said. "We're behind him and he got a lot of reps with the first team. That's always good."

Johnson will be the eighth different starting quarterback to open the season for Auburn in as many seasons and the ninth different season-opening quarterback for Malzahn.

Marshall is the more skilled runner, with 1,068 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns to go along with his 1,976 yards and 14 touchdown passes last season. His dual-threat capability is part of what earned Marshall first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors from both the media and coaches, and several other preseason accolades.

Though they have different skill sets, teammates are confident in both Johnson and Marshall to run the offense seamlessly.

"It's just like if Nick was back there. He's a leader on the team, Jeremy's a leader, you can't really tell a difference," left guard Chad Slade said. "We just have confidence in both our quarterbacks, and we know our coaches do, too."

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