Auburn at LSU Preview: Three most important matchups to watch for

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Sep 12, 2015; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Jeremy Johnson (6) throws a pass against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks during the first quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson vs. Jeremy Johnson

Is there a more disappointing player in the nation through two weeks than Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson?

After throwing three interceptions against Louisville in the season opener – each of them the result of questionable decision-making – fans and analysts were left scratching their heads. The Auburn coaching staff, however, remained confident in their junior signal caller.

“He wanted to do well so bad and obviously forced three balls that were really bad, maybe even another one that could have been a disaster, and he knows that,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said after the 31-24 victory over Louisville, according to James Crepea of “It’s always good to learn from your mistakes if you win.”

The Tigers won, and they beat Jacksonville State in Week 2, but Johnson struggled again and proceeded to throw two more picks last week against the Gamecocks:

He also missed a couple of wide open receivers, which was very troubling given the strong-armed 6-foot-5, 240-pound NFL prototype had completed 70.7 percent of his passes as a freshman and 75.7 percent last year, albeit in a small sample size.

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Not only was Johnson expected to provide a seamless transition from two-year starting quarterback Nick Marshall, he was expected to lead the Tigers to the SEC Championship by the league’s media, who also named him to the All-SEC Second Team this summer. And that was just the beginning of the early hype, as Johnson was considered a full-fledged Heisman Trophy candidate despite making just two career starts in his first two seasons on campus and playing sparingly as Marshall’s backup.

Oh, and by the way, Johnson’s five picks through his first 53 pass attempts (and came in the first two games of the season, which no SEC QB has done since 2009) are just two fewer than Marshall had in 293 attempts last season.

Sure, Johnson will have to deal with talented defensive backs like Tre’Davious White, Jamal Adams, Kevin Toliver II and several others that may play in the NFL one day, as well as speedy linebackers like Lamar Louis and Kendell Beckwith – not to mention the 102,321 screaming fans on a Saturday night in Death Valley. But it doesn’t matter that LSU has a more talented defense than Johnson has seen this year, or than he has played against as a college QB.

Johnson has all the talent in the world – and as much as Gus Malzahn claims the coaches need to put him in better situations – Johnson’s interceptions clearly have more to do with his head than his right arm or his coaching. For Auburn to win Saturday, Johnson needs to step up and play like the star everyone thought he was this summer.

On the bright side, the ten-yard touchdown pass Johnson threw to Melvin Ray with less than a minute remaining in regulation, as well as the touchdown drive overtime, could give Johnson some momentum, maybe even a little boost in confidence, heading into this week’s matchup.

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