1. Johnson to Start, Marshall to Play: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t provided many details regarding his quarterback plan for Saturday’s opener against Arkansas the past few weeks. His game week press conference didn’t really clear up any questions, either.
Malzahn did acknowledge for the first time sophomore Jeremy Johnson will start in place of senior Nick Marshall, who is being punished for an offseason citation for marijuana possession. He also said reaffirmed Marshall will play against the Razorbacks, but wasn’t “ready to say exactly when and all that.”
“We have a plan and we’re going to stick with that,” Malzahn said when pressed for more. “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.”
Malzahn said Johnson has known for some time he will earn the third start of his career. He filled in for Marshall against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic, earning freshman of the week honors after both performances. He completed 29 of 41 passes for 422 yards with 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions last season.
Malzahn believes the experience was valuable for Johnson as he prepares to take the first snap of the 2014 season for the Tigers. Auburn is confident Johnson can run Malzahn’s entire hurry-up, no-huddle offense against the Razorbacks.
“Even this year, we were going to have a plan for him being a bigger factor this year than he was last year, and he’s earned that, too,” Malzahn said. “He’s very quality and he does a lot of things that can help us win.”
The quarterback situation isn’t the only uncertainty Auburn carries into the season opener. In addition, Malzahn said cornerback Josh Holsey will start in place of Jonathan Mincy, who is serving a suspension for an offseason arrest for marijuana possession. But Mincy, who has 29 career starts, will play at some point.
However, defensive back Robenson Therezie wasn’t on Auburn’s depth chart and his status is unknown. Therezie is dealing with eligibility issues, according to Malzahn.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said Monday the Razorbacks wouldn’t get caught up in the uncertainty regarding Auburn’s personnel. He said Arkansas understands Auburn will have talent on both sides of the ball when the teams meet Saturday.
“I don’t know how long the quarterback’s not going to be in there,” Bielema said. “The second-string quarterback’s a very good player. Who knows how long the second-string corner’s going to be in there? The second-string corner’s a good player. Who knows if the safety’s going to play? There’s a lot of unknown things, but what matters is the 11 guys that suit up for Auburn are going to be good players. They’re going to be well coached and excited to play.”
2. Business as Usual: Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney noticed no difference in quarterback Brandon Allen a day after his truck was set on fire. But then again, Chaney said Allen has shown “a lot of toughness” through everything he’s experienced the past year.
“I think he’s ready to go play a football game,” Chaney said. “I’m excited to watch him play. He didn’t have a good year, we all know that, but he is ready to go play. I don’t see any ramifications outside of football that affected him (Tuesday). I thought he handled it well. He had a pretty solid practice.”
Allen called the Fayetteville Police Department to inform them his Chevy Avalanche was on fire at 3:59 a.m. Monday morning. It was the second car fire reported within three hours in Fayetteville. The incidents are being investigated as arson.
It was the second incident involving Allen’s truck in the past year. He discovered it had been pelted by eggs after an overtime loss to Mississippi State last year. There’s no indication Allen was targeted for his football status in the car fire, but Bielema said Monday the quarterback wasn’t shaken by the incident.
Running back Jonathan Williams and tight end Hunter Henry weren’t surprised to see Allen handle the incident with no problems. Henry said he’s the “same old Brandon” all the time, while Williams remembered a recent conversation.
“I was telling him, ‘You know, it has to be kind of hard dealing with some of the stuff that he’s dealt with,’” Williams said. “He just shrugged it off and said it doesn’t bother him. I mean, it genuinely doesn’t bother him. He’s not just saying that to try to stop talking about it. He just goes throughout his day as if it’s normal.”
3. Unbeaten in Openers: Bielema has never lost an opener in eight seasons as a head coach. Of course, he has never kicked off the season on the road against a conference opponent, either.
Bielema said he’s not concerned about the record as Arkansas prepares for Auburn.
“I’m never really into the stat part of it,” Bielema said. “I just kind of go about our business. I’m taking Auburn as it matters because it’s an SEC divisional opponent. I mean, that’s real. That’s really the only thing that I think comes across in our mind at this point. Whether it’s an opener or it’s fourth game, fifth game. Whatever it lies, it’s a conference game and it’s of the utmost importance.”
It will be the first time Arkansas has opened the season against a conference opponent since 1980, when the Razorbacks lost at Texas. Arkansas has won seven straight openers dating back to its 50-14 loss to Southern Cal in 2006.
4. Extra Points
• Arkansas tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. said senior AJ Derby will be “game ready” for Auburn. Derby missed time during preseason camp because of a knee injury, but will be part of a four-man rotation at the position. “He’s a little bit rusty from being off for a little bit, but we’re excited about him getting back,” Lunney Jr. said. “And what he was doing in the spring, he’s almost there. So I look for him to play quite a bit for us on Saturday.”
• Arkansas wasn’t comfortable enough with its fullbacks to put them on the depth chart for the opener. But that could change after the Auburn game. “Sunday we’ll know how we feel about that position,” Chaney said. “I feel good (Tuesday). We’re going to go out and see what happens with the guys we put on the field. Hopefully they’ll perform at a high enough level that we’ll feel we can win with them.”
• Eureka Pizza announced it will sell pizzas at a discounted rate in Fayetteville “when” Arkansas beats sixth-ranked Auburn on Saturday. The discount would be determined by the number of points Arkansas scores. For instance, if Arkansas wins and scores 14 points, a large pizza will cost 14 cents. It would cost 21 cents if Arkansas wins and scores 21 points. So, naturally, the Eureka Pizza advertisement is encouraging Bielema to “run up the score” against the Tigers.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau