COLLEGE STATION - - This isn’t Max Johnson’s first rodeo. Sure, the location has changed. So has the uniform.
He’s been here before, though, ready for a 60-minute hog wrestling matchup. Of course, the stage will be bigger — and a tad brighter compared to the lights at Tiger Stadium.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, right?
Johnson, Texas A&M’s new starting quarterback, has already been through the gauntlet of a daunting SEC schedule. He’s faced off against programs like Oles, Alabama and Auburn during his time at LSU. One game into his tenure as the Aggies’ QB1, and the offense has turned the corner in the right direction in terms of consistency.
Again, Johnson’s been in this spot before. He’s faced off against No. 10 Arkansas in a spit-swapping matchup that went down to overtime in Baton Rouge a season ago.
Tiger Stadium is a different venue than AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The No. 23 Aggies also need a win to set the tone for the start of conference play.
"The SEC West is tough," A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said on Wednesday's league teleconference call. "Each week is a tough matchup, and it leads to another critical game ... It's one game, but you'd rather be on the top side of it than the bottom."
Fair or not, the weight of the offense will fall on Johnson’s shoulders. He started all 12 games in 2021, leading LSU to a 6-6 finish with 27 touchdown passes against six interceptions. He's the son of Brad Johnson, a Super Bowl champion quarterback that led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a title in 2003.
And Max Johnson has looked the part of a capable starter in his two games this season. Against Sam Houston, he went 3-of-4 passing for 23 yards. In his first start against No. 13 Miami, Johnson finished 10-of-20 passing for 140 yards and a touchdown.
The 50 percent completion might be a tad misleading. Four A&M receivers were credited with a drop in Saturday's 17-9 win over the Hurricanes. One pass was broken up at the line of scrimmage as well.
The biggest difference between Johnson and incumbent starter Haynes King was consistency. In King’s two starts, he relied heavily on the deep ball to carry the load. Johnson worked in the middle of the field to move the chains and keep the clock running.
"He led us, had good poise, understood the information getting back on the sideline in was what was happening in the game, and played a very solid game," Fisher said Monday. "He’s developing, and I love his attitude and demeanor.”
Johnson is hopeful his second crack against rotating the Hogs will be better than his first. Last season at LSU, things couldn't have gone worse. After two drives, then-coach Ed Orgeron elected to play freshman Garrett Nussmeier.
Just Like Dad: Max Johnson Proves To Be Texas A&M's Best Option
Like Brad Johnson did in 2008, Max Johnson led his team to a win in Arlington.
Things didn’t improve. Nussmeier threw a pair of interceptions as Arkansas would go on to pick up the 16-13 victory. Johnson finished 3-of-6 passing for 21 total yards.
The Arkansas team that took the field against Fisher’s Aggies or Johnson’s Tigers in 2021 no longer exists. One major factor as to why fans believe that Johnson’s numbers will improve is due to the inconsistent play of the Hogs’ secondary.
Arkansas currently leads the nation in sacks with 17. The Hogs also are allowing offenses to torch their defense through the air, allowing an FBS-worst 353 yards per game.
Last week at home, the Razorbacks allowed FCS Missouri State to throw for 357 yards and averaged 8.3 yards per pass. If not for a fourth-quarter surge, Arkansas would enter Saturday with one of the worst losses of the season.
“I can put it in a nutshell for you, we didn’t tackle well as a team,” Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman told reporters Monday. “We’re having a hard time covering opponents the entire year. We didn’t tackle well. We didn’t cover well.”
Johnson will have to play better against Arkansas if A&M is expecting a win. The good news is that two of the Aggies’ top weapons will return for Saturday’s game. Fisher announced that both freshmen receivers Evan Stewart and Chris Marshall would be active after being suspended last week for violating team rules.
Fisher has been adamant about having the offense expand on its vertical attack. King showed his ability to extend plays downfield early in the season. Perhaps Johnson can too with a loaded arsenal at his disposal.
Players are certain that with more reps, Johnson will find his footing. After all, this isn’t his first rodeo in the SEC.
“He isn’t new to this,” running back Devon Achane said. “He’s the QB and the captain of the offense. You can see him making the right reads … He was just getting his feet wet and [learning] to be comfortable.”
Kickoff from AT&T Stadium is set for 6 p.m.
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