AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall will start against No. 7 Texas A&M, but freshman Jeremy Johnson could also play a role in the offense.
Coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday Marshall will return Saturday for the 24th-ranked Tigers, who climbed into the national rankings this week for the first since November 2011.
The junior college transfer sat out Auburn’s easy win over Western Carolina to rest a knee he injured against Mississippi.
Malzahn said he’s not concerned about Marshall being rusty at this point in the season.
“He was locked in during practice last week,” the coach said. “He practiced Sunday and looked good. Got another week of practice. We’re past the midway point. If it was early in the season, I’d be concerned but not too concerned now.”
The Tigers also don’t seem concerned about Marshall’s knee.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Marshall was probably 80 percent healthy for the Western Carolina game and could have played if needed.
“But it was just one of those deals that, if you can give him that extra week, it was good,” Lashlee said, adding that Marshall looked back to normal for Sunday’s short practice.
“I wouldn’t have known there was anything wrong with him.”
Johnson, who had appeared headed for a redshirt year, started in his first college action. He was 17-of-21 passing for 201 yards and four touchdowns against one interception in his debut to earn SEC freshman of the week honors.
Johnson tied current Auburn color analyst Stan White for the second-most TD passes by an Auburn quarterback making his first career start.
Center Reese Dismukes said there isn’t much adjustment between the two quarterbacks, since both get plenty of snaps in practice.
“There’s not really a big difference at all,” Dismukes said. “They’re definitely different play-style types but not really that big a difference.”
Malzahn made it clear after the game that Marshall remains the starter. He hasn’t shed any light on what role Johnson could play in the offense.
The 6-foot-5, 219-pounder is more of a prototypical passer than Marshall, a dual-threat running and passing.
Marshall has passed for 902 yards and rushed for 288, while gaining 140 yards on the ground in the Ole Miss game.
Marshall’s rushing yards against the Rebels is the most by an SEC quarterback this season, even topping the season’s highest output by the Aggies’ Johnny Manziel, who ran for 113 yards last weekend against Ole Miss. He’s not coming close to Manziel in passing or overall production, but like Manziel is quick, nimble and able to make plays running.
“Nick is great on his feet,” Auburn tailback Tre Mason said. “He can do some of the things Johnny can do. He’s great on his feet, if not even better. That guy is just a complete athlete and people need to look out for him because he’s going to be making plays himself.”
Marshall ranks ninth in the SEC averaging 180.4 passing yards per game and is 13th in pass efficiency. He has thrown for four touchdowns and been intercepted four times.
Marshall ran for two touchdowns against Ole Miss. In his only road game, he passed for 224 yards but was intercepted twice in a loss to No. 6 LSU.
“He still has the same mindset: let’s win out,” Mason said. “He just wants to win out, win every game from here to the end of the season. He’s a great leader. We really needed to him heal up. He’s a great athlete. He’s somebody we need going into this game to make his plays and get this ‘W.'”
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