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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.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas A&M quarterback Max Johnson can remember spending weekends in Arlington. He can remember meeting Jerry Jones and taking on the field after Dallas Cowboys games to play catch with the other kids. 

Johnson, the son of Super Bowl champion quarterback Brad Johnson, was engulfed in football from a young age. Brad Johnson spent the final two seasons of his career with the Cowboys as a backup. Max Johnson got an up-close look at what it was like to play on a professional field. 

Perhaps one day he’ll follow in his dad’s footsteps as a professional quarterback. For now, he’ll have to settle for picking up a win in JerryWorld just like his old man did back in the mid-2000s. 

“It’s kind of cool that we ended up in the same spot and that we came out with a win,” Johnson said late Saturday night from AT&T Stadium. 

Johnson led the No. 23 Aggies to a 23-21 victory over No. 10 Arkansas Saturday night in the Southwest Classic. He wasn’t perfect. Much of the first quarter mirrored similar miscues from his start against Miami the previous week at Kyle Field. 

Unlike previous starter Haynes King, Johnson has been in SEC games before. He started three games for LSU in 2020 before taking over as the full-time starter in 2021. He knows what it likes when the chips are down, having to pull the Tigers out of the gutter and back into the win column. 

Saturday was no different. Sure, the setting was, but the stakes remained at an all-time high. And when Jimbo Fisher needed his quarterback most, Johnson delivered. 

“That’s what it’s about,” Fisher said. “It doesn’t matter where it’s at. It could be in the parking lot … he’s continued to grow. I love Max and he’s going to get better and better.”  

Johnson went 11-of-21 passing for 151 yards and a touchdown. By the time the second quarter had begun, Johnson had found a sense of rhythm. He could feel the pressure collapsing the pocket. He could sense the defender winning his one-on-one battle against an offensive lineman. 

The results showed. Johnson worked in a more up-tempo fashion, trying to find open receivers. When all else failed, he took off running. For a player dubbed “immobile” at LSU, Johnson moved like Houdini to evade the sack and pick up positive yards. He finished with 39 yards off 13 carries, picking up three first downs with his legs. 

“I just feel more comfortable," Johnson said. "Coach Fisher did a great job of calling the game. Put me in great spots. The o-line did a great job of giving me time, and our receivers did a good job of creating separation for me."

For the first time this season, Johnson played from behind. In Week 1 against Sam Houston, the transfer came in for the final two series up 31-0. Against Miami in Week 3, the Aggies never trailed. 

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Down 14-0, Johnson played with urgency. After allowing three penalties in the first quarter, the quarterback commanded excellence from his personnel. The Aggies (3-1, 1-0 SEC) would march downfield and total 160 yards of offense and 23 unanswered points before the Hogs (3-1, 1-1 SEC) would score again. 

It helps to have a do-it-all running back at your disposal. Devon Achane broke free for a 63-yard gain in the second quarter to set up Johnson’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Evan Stewart. The junior was credited 174 total yards of offense and a touchdown. 

“Devon is Devon,” Fisher said. “That's who he is. How did he play? That's Devon. That's all you've got to say.” 

Fisher pondered the idea of going back to King following the Aggies’ 17-9 win over Miami. That thought is likely gone barring an injury to Johnson.

In years past, several programs have made a midseason switch at quarterback to kickstart the offense. Clemson moved off Kelly Bryant for Trevor Lawrence in 2018 and won a national title. Georgia played its hot hand with Stetson Bennett last season following an injury to JT Daniels en route to its first championship in four decades.  

Countless others have made the switch in hopes of salvaging the season. Sometimes it worked in their favor. Other times, it went up in flames. 

So far, Johnson and the Aggies fall in the former category. His tools are limited, but his potential isn’t. And with two top 15 wins under his belt, Johnson has the Aggies trending up at the start of conference play. 

Like father, like son. Didn’t Brad Johnson do something similar in Tampa back in 2003?

“We’re all super happy that we came out with this win,” Johnson said. "Two wins over top 15 teams. We came together as a team, offense and defense. We weren’t separate. We played together as a family.”

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