Texas A&M will start a new quarterback just weeks into the season for the third straight year. Max Johnson is slotted to play for the Aggies against Arkansas in Week 5 after opening-week starter Conner Weigman suffered a likely season-ending foot injury against Auburn.
From 2018 to 2020, Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond started 36 consecutive games. The Aggies posted a 26-10 record over that stretch. Over the last three years, four different quarterbacks have started games: Johnson, Weigman, Haynes King and Zach Calzada. Texas A&M has posted a 16-12 record over that timeframe, including its first season below .500 since 2009.
Such consistent turnover at quarterback isn't a good thing, but Johnson, an LSU transfer and the son of former Super Bowl champion Brad Johnson, has experience on his side with more than 600 passes thrown for roughly 4,500 yards with 42 touchdowns.
Johnson was the full-time starter for the Tigers in 2021, completing 60.3% of his passes for 2,815 yards, 27 touchdowns and six interceptions. He transferred to Texas A&M and started three games in 2022 before suffering a hand injury that cost him the rest of his season. After losing the quarterback battle to Weigman over the offseason, Johnson now has a chance to put his mark on the program.
"He's played a lot of football," Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said of Johnson. "I feel very confident. As I've said before, we have two starting quarterbacks ... [against Auburn] he distributed it and understands our offense. We are blessed to have him and are very confident in him. We are going to keep right on pace."
Weigman, a former five-star recruit in the Class of 2022, was positioned to be the future of the program after King transferred. However, Texas A&M's struggling offensive line failed to keep him upright. Here's how the switch to Johnson will impact Texas A&M's offense.
Fisher has historically identified high-upside quarterbacks with elite tools that he can mold into NFL passers. To the contrary, Johnson's physical gifts are closer to passable than the high-end gifts of Weigman, Jameis Winston or EJ Manuel. It's a significant part of the reason he did not win the starting job either of his two seasons in College Station. However, Johnson has quietly ranked as the most reliable signal-caller on the roster during his stints at both Texas A&M and LSU.
During the 2022 season, Johnson, Weigman and King each recorded at least 94 dropbacks. Johnson's average depth of target (8.2 yards) trailed the latter pair by nearly 2 total yards, and he recorded only one "big time throw," per Pro Football Focus. Johnson's adjusted completion percentage was six points higher than his competition, however, and his overall yards per attempt led the way. He also produced only two turnover worthy throws vs. a combined 21 for Weigman and King.
Texas A&M led Auburn 6-3 when Johnson entered the game. In one half, he led a 21-7 run and threw a pair of touchdowns. Three of his five drives ended in a touchdown. Granted, Auburn did not game plan for Johnson's skillset, but it provides some optimism that Johnson can bring new dimensions to the offense.
Make the game easy
Johnson has suffered through middling and inconsistent teams around him during his four-year career. However, Texas A&M's roster boasts one of the most talented collections of skill talent in the nation as the top-ranked 2022 recruiting class reaches maturity.
Against Auburn, Johnson connected with his brother, Jake Johnson, for the tight end's first career touchdown. Wide receiver Evan Stewart notched a 50-yard touchdown catch and has hit another level as a sophomore. Running backs Amari Daniels and Le'Veon Moss are both clearing 5.8 yards per carry. Receiver Ainias Smith has stepped right back into his role after returning from injury, while Noah Thomas is emerging as a touchdown machine.
All that to say, Texas A&M doesn't need Johnson to save its offense. The pieces are in place. Johnson can fit the game manager role that comes naturally to him and simply allow playmakers to make plays in space.
With Johnson, Texas A&M boasted one of the best backup quarterback situations in the SEC. Now that he is the starter, though, quarterback depth suddenly appears far more perilous.
Through four games, Weigman and Johnson are the only Aggies to throw a pass. Fresno State transfer Jaylen Henderson has been added for depth, but he has only thrown eight passes in three years of college football. Blue-chip recruit Marcel Reed is talented and scored 100 touchdowns as a high school player in Tennessee, but has yet to appear in a game.
Johnson's introduction to the starting lineup shouldn't cause any major bumps. However, all eyes turns to Texas A&M's shaky offensive line because the Aggies can't afford to lose Johnson.