Chuck Landon: Owls QB has drawn Herd's attention
Usually, Jaquez Johnson wears just a No. 12 on the back of his Florida Atlantic jersey.
But not this week.
Thanks to Conference USA naming Johnson as the league’s “Offensive Player of the Week,” Florida Atlantic’s sophomore quarterback also is sporting something else on his jersey.
And, yes, as Marshall prepares to visit Florida Atlantic at 5 p.m., Saturday, in Boca Raton, Fla., the Herd’s league-leading defense has noticed that target.
“Congratulations to him on that award,” said Marshall defensive end Alex Bazzie. “It’s always good when hard work pays off. But on our side, we don’t want him to be a two-time Conference USA player of the week. We’re going to try to slow him down just a little bit.”
Johnson earned the C-USA award by leading Florida Atlantic to a 37-23 win over UAB last Saturday in Birmingham, Ala. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound sophomore totaled 404 yards total offense by completing 23 of 36 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 105 yards and a TD on 19 carries.
That’s worthy of an award.
And a bull’s-eye.
“That’s a little target on his back,” said Marshall defensive end Ra’Shawde Myers. “We’ll see how good he really is.”
What jumps out at Marshall’s defensive players first is Johnson’s bulky size.
“Man, I’m about the same size, aren’t I?” said Bazzie, who is 6-1, 228 pounds. “My goodness. He’s a big boy.”
Myers is a bit larger at 6-4, 246 pounds, but he concedes Johnson is a big, strong quarterback.
“He looks a little wide,” said Myers. “But he’s a very athletic kid. He wants to hold the ball. He’s more of a running back than a quarterback to us.
“He likes to run a lot of speed zones, power plays. … the coach wants to keep the ball in his hands.”
That’s exactly where Neville Hewitt wants it to be. Marshall’s junior linebacker sees Johnson as a challenge. And he welcomes it.
“I heard their quarterback is pretty big,” said the 6-2, 220-pound Hewitt. “I’d tell him, ‘Good luck with trying to run it.’ We take that personal. If somebody starts running on us, we take that real personal.”
Marshall has faced three consecutive mobile quarterbacks in Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton, Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas and UTSA’s Eric Soza. But Johnson appears to be different. He isn’t just mobile, he’s a running back lining up at quarterback.
“There’s always a remedy for those guys,” said Bazzie. “You’ve just got to contain them. You face guys like Logan Thomas. … he’s such a big guy. You’ve got to be able to limit them. The more you give them freedom, the more they’re going to attack your defense and the harder it’s going to be to stop their offense.
“So, if we can just contain that quarterback. … stop the run, first. If we can just stop the run, then we can limit him to just being able to pass. Once you can get a team to do just one thing, at least you can play them better than having a dual-threat type of guy out there just running and throwing.”
Hewitt puts it a little more, ahem, succinctly.
“Most guys like to run, until they get hit,” said Hewitt of multi-dimensional quarterbacks. “When somebody hits ’em like they’re supposed to get hit, they’re going to start throwing that ball.”
There’s a word to describe Hewitt’s approach to facing Florida Atlantic’s Johnson.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com.
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