After starting at quarterback in Northwestern’s last game, a 13-10 loss against Nebraska, Aidan Smith apparently performed well enough to warrant his second collegiate start tonight, over healthy five-star transfer Hunter Johnson.
Smith completed 19 of 32 passes for 136 yards and ran the football 16 times for 64 yards with a touchdown before throwing a controversial interception in Northwestern’s last possession against the Cornhuskers. While those stats are far from eye-popping, he held a decent command over the offense and did all that was asked of him by the coaching staff.
Against Nebraska, Johnson did not play, largely due to a knee injury, according to head coach Pat Fitzgerald. It was an odd designation, though, as Johnson was not listed on the injury report prior to the game. In addition, Johnson warmed up on the sidelines once it appeared Smith was injured. Smith did not miss a play, but it seemed Johnson would have entered the game otherwise.
Johnson is not listed on the injury report this week, so it will be interesting to see Fitzgerald’s reasoning for Smith starting in the press conference after the game over the seemingly higher-upside Johnson. In his press conference on Monday, Fitz stated that “Hunter has to keep getting time on task and getting involved and familiar with the offense. He doesn’t have as much experience in the system as Aidan does.”
Fitzgerald also said he “expect(s) Hunter will get his play up to where Justin is now...we just gotta give it time. For some players, it just clicks.” In order for Johnson to gain familiarity and improve within the offense, one would think more game experience is imperative.
It is unclear whether Smith will play the entire game, but it will be interesting to see whether the coaching staff inserts Johnson if he struggles early. We will keep you posted.