Caldwell Column: The Marshall Plan

Coach Gus Malzahn and the Tigers are going with The Marshall Plan to rebuild Auburn's offense.

It didn't take long for Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn to decide that junior college transfer Nick Marshall has what he is looking for at the quarterback position heading into the 2013 season. A dynamic performer, the 6-1, 210 Marshall has the ability to be a true difference-maker for the Tigers as they look to hit the ground running in the season opener against Washington State.

The obvious thing that stands out when you look at the quarterback is his athletic ability. With the potential to play point guard at the SEC level if he wanted to, according to several high school coaches in the state of Georgia where Marshall was a two-sport star, he started his college career with the Georgia Bulldogs playing defensive back. It was his second year of college football that may prove to be a career-changer for Marshall and a season-changer for Auburn.

Deciding he wanted to give quarterback another shot after setting the career record for touchdown passes (102) in Georgia high school football history, Marshall had a monster year at Garden City Community College in Kansas in 2012. As a sophomore he passed for 3,142 yards with with 18 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. He was also an effective runner with 1,095 rushing yards for Garden City and 19 touchdowns. Those numbers earned him the KJCCC Offensive Player of the Year honors.

His play helped kickstart an offense that struggled to get much of anything going the previous season. In 2011 Garden City averaged 17.4 points and just 276.4 yards of total offense per game with just eight touchdown passes in nine games.

Fast forward a year and you can see what a dramatic difference Marshall had on his teammates at Garden City. Averaging 38.4. points per game, a full three-touchdown improvement, Garden City averaged 486.8 yards of total offense per contest. The Broncbusters improved from 3-6 in 2011 to 6-4 in 2012 including losses in games in which they scored 49 and 47 points.

Nick Marshall signs an autograph at Auburn's annual Fan Day.

Can Marshall make that much of a difference for the Auburn offense in 2013?

Playing in the SEC is a far cry from Kansas junior college football, but there is no doubt that Marshall will bring plenty of excitement to an Auburn offense that had very little last season with the exception of 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason. With Mason back along with junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne in the backfield, the Tigers should have a solid running game to take the pressure off Marshall early this season.

Establishing a power running game early and building the passing attack around that is a recipe that Gus Malzahn is familiar with as that is how Cam Newton's 2010 season started on the Plains. A talented quarterback who saw his all-around game blossom in Auburn's offense, Newton threw just 14 passes in his first AU start as he burst onto the scene with the ability to take it to the house on the ground. The same was true in week two as he had just 19 pass attempts in a win at Mississippi State, but the foundation was being laid by Malzahn.

After just 14 pass attempts in a win over Clemson, Newton threw the ball 21 times in a victory over South Carolina that included a dynamic touchdown run as part of 176 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. While he was never forced to throw the ball again and again because the Tigers built leads for much of the year, the passing game developed over the season until it was needed to close out games later against Alabama, South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game, and in the BCS title game against Oregon.

I don't think any realistic Auburn fan is looking for the 2013 offense to match what happened in 2010, but a similar pattern could form under the leadership of Marshall. A runner who can make people miss in the pocket and throw the ball deep down the field, expect the Tigers to grind it out and take some shots in the passing game early in the season. If they can connect on big plays in the passing game and build confidence it could end up being a fun ride once again.

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