It all seems to be coming pretty easily to Jerrod Johnson.
Texas A&M's sophomore quarterback has started only five games and already has two of the top four passing performances in school history. He's completed 65 percent of his passes this season and has six touchdown throws in the last three games without an interception.
Johnson lost the starting job to senior Stephen McGee during August practices, but McGee has missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. Johnson has started the past four games and averaged 27.5 completions and 325 passing yards.
"The game has slowed down a little bit for me," said Johnson, who played in five games as McGee's backup in 2007. "Every game, I've gotten better."
Johnson set an A&M record with 419 passing yards in the Aggies' 44-30 loss to Kansas State on Oct. 11 and had four touchdown passes and 381 passing yards in Saturday's 49-35 win at Iowa State.
The Aggies (3-5, 1-3 Big 12) play Colorado (4-4, 1-3) on Saturday and Johnson comes in ranked eighth in the league in passing yards (219 per game) and pass efficiency (149.7).
"From where he was at the beginning of the year, it's night and day," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "He's made a lot of progress. He certainly hasn't arrived. I told him, 'There are a lot of plays out there left on the field, that you have to go back and get.' But I think he's making progress in the right direction."
Sherman is careful not to give Johnson too much praise. Johnson is A&M's third-leading rusher, but he's lost three fumbles, and Sherman said he's talked to Johnson about protecting the ball better.
"That has been an emphasis from day one," Sherman said. "The thing about him, when you tell him something, he listens to you and he tries to fix it."
The Aggies say Johnson has matured before their eyes and blossomed into the leader that McGee was in the previous two seasons.
"As the games increase, his swagger is getting up there. In the huddle, he has a better command," said junior tight end Jamie McCoy. "You always knew Stephen had this confidence that exuded from him. Now, with Jerrod, he's getting into his form and we just count on him to be the leader out there for us."
Johnson first replaced McGee in the first quarter of A&M's second game, at New Mexico on Sept. 6. Sophomore receiver Terrence McCoy said Johnson delivers the ball quicker now than he did then, a sign of his growing confidence.
"The New Mexico game, we would come out of our routes and he would get to his reads a little bit slow," said Terrence McCoy. "At the Iowa State game, right when we came out of our routes, he got the ball right there. That just helps us, because that gives us a chance to make a move on the defender and make an easier catch."
McGee, who started 29 consecutive games before hurting his shoulder, is often the first person Johnson talks to when he comes off the field. Sherman has praised McGee's leadership and Johnson said he's always willing to offer advice.
"He's helped me out tremendously on understanding coverages, understanding the game plan and just the whole managing the game and running the game process," Johnson said. "It is an unfortunate situation with his injury, but he's like another coach on the sidelines. He definitely knows his stuff."
Sherman said McGee was "not 100 percent" before the Iowa State game, but said McGee might be available for this week's game. But that would most likely be in a backup role with the way Johnson is playing.
"The last two weeks, he has really disciplined himself more," Sherman said of Johnson. "He's not playing the game as dangerously as he had earlier in the season. He's not putting us in high-risk situations."
Behind closed doors, Johnson said Sherman picks apart his performances, even pointing out that some plays work just by sheer luck. The mistakes Sherman sees keep Johnson motivated.
"Coach is real critical on me and I like when he's critical on me," Johnson said. "I want to be the best player I can be, and he can make me that way. So I just listen."