Sept. 15, 2012
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- On the night the number he now wears was raised to the ring of honor inside Neyland Stadium for Vol legend Johnny Majors, A.J. Johnson filled a roll that harkened back to days of ole. Johnson played a starring role for Tennessee on both sides of the ball, scoring a touchdown on offense while leading UT in tackles from his customary spot at linebacker.
Majors, the former Tennessee running back and longtime head coach was honored in a pregame ceremony, but Johnson and future players will continue to wear the number 45 that now hangs as one of eight retired jerseys that line Neyland Stadium's interior.
Johnson's throwback performance began early in the third quarter. With the Vols facing third-and-2 deep in Florida territory, he made his first appearance lined up as the quarterback in the wildcat formation, taking a direct snap ahead for 4 yards and a first down. Six players later, Johnson channeled his inner-Johnny Majors by plowing ahead for the first touchdown of his Tennessee career on his second-career carry.
Johnson said his experience at the position in high school made him comfortable filling the role at Tennessee.
"I ran it in high school, so it wasn't a real big deal for me to get in and run it," Johnson said. "To me, to just get the ball and going downhill isn't too hard of a thing to do, so I feel real comfortable. Just see the hole and hit it."
His time spent on offense did nothing to take away from his performance in his more conventional roll on defense. Johnson led Tennessee with 11 tackles, six solo, and pulled down Florida tight end Omarius Hines for a 6-yard loss to end a Gator drive early in the 4th quarter.
Despite his effort, Johnson said the defensive effort down the stretch was affected by frustration with long gains by Florida.
"We got hit with big plays and got frustrated," Johnson said. "We should have come back harder."