Rio Johnson Solid In Season Opener Against Appalachian State
Sept. 1, 2012
by Bill Woodward
"Win," McNeill said after Johnson passed for a pair of touchdowns and ran for another in ECU's 35-13 victory over Appalachian State at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. "W-I-N. Exclamation mark, exclamation mark."
Johnson, a junior, succeeds two-year starter Dominique Davis at the crucial position. Johnson missed a couple of open receivers early and had a tipped pass intercepted in the first half. But as the game progressed, he looked more comfortable -completing 15 of 20 passes for 171 yards in the second half to finish 28-for-43 for 242 yards through the air.
"I liked the fact that on the sideline Rio was calm," McNeill said. "I'm pretty patient, especially when I see him handling it well on the sideline."
In the second half, Johnson started hitting receivers more often. After throwing a first-half touchdown pass he made a picture-perfect throw on a fade route to Justin Hardy for a 4-yard score.
"[The quarterbacks] practice trash-can drills every day, throwing that fade pass into a trash can," Hardy said. "Basically, I was in a good spot on the play and he put it in the trash can."
McNeill said he saw something in Johnson's demeanor that he really liked.
"When he came off the field [early in the game], I looked at him and he said,' I've got it coach,' " McNeill said. "I did see him get into a rhythm, just staying with the game plan. He missed a couple early but the more comfortable he becomes, I think you will see him complete those balls."
Johnson said getting his first start - and his first win - under his belt was important.
"I definitely wanted to get the first win out of the way," he said. "We started kind of slow, but I felt like I was confident the whole time."
And that confidence was felt by his teammates.
"Rio was patient with his reads and everything," Hardy said. "He was making plays. I was real impressed with Rio. He took the [starting] job last week and he just went with it."
Johnson said that he was comfortable on the field despite a hard-charging ASU defense that forced him to scramble on occasion, including on a 6-yard touchdown run for the final ECU touchdown.
"Decision making-wise, I was real comfortable," Johnson said. "I didn't really have any butterflies. This week, we practiced the same plays we ran out there today. I tried to do just what I did in practice.
"I really just came with the mindset to make the routine plays, the routine throws and we would come out on top."
And like his coach, Johnson was reluctant to give himself and individual grade.
"I wouldn't grade myself," he said. "I like to grade as a whole. I just really want to thank my offensive linemen and the receivers for making plays for me, the running backs coming through with those runs. Defense played great, special teams came through with a touchdown. As long as we got the win, I'm fine."