Caldwell's Monday Morning Quarterback Column

Taking a look back at Auburn's season opening win over the Washington State Cougars.

Auburn, Ala.--It was easy to predict that Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall would struggle some in his first action as the starter for the Tigers on Saturday night. In addition to the fact that he was a defensive back two seasons ago with the Georgia Bulldogs, he has been in Gus Malzahn's offense for just over a month after arriving from Garden City Community College in Kansas.

Completing just 2-8 passes in the first half for 20 yards, Marshall had to be pumped up and and a little nervous too, something that likely caused several of his throws to sail. Even with that he showed pocket presence and didn't get rattled as the Tigers struggled to match a hot Washington State offense early.

With a half of football under his belt Marshall came back and played much better in the final 30 minutes of action. Completing 8-11 passes for 79 yards after intermission, the speedy quarterback looked much more in command of the offense and three plays in particular may be a sign of things to come for Marshall and the Tigers.

In the third quarter Auburn was backed up on its own end of the field leading just 28-24 following a Washington State field goal. Facing a second and seven situation, Marshall connected with Jaylon Denson to move the ball out to the 37-yard line. Later in the drive he hooked up with Quan Bray for 10 yards and another first down. While the drive didn't lead to points, it helped to flip the field position and kept the defense in a good position to keep Washington State off the scoreboard.

Early in the fourth quarter Auburn still led by just four when the Tigers took over possession on their own 15-yard line. Following a three-yard run by Cameron Artis-Payne, Marshall dropped back to pass and maneuvered his way out of the pocket to find a throwing line. Zipping a strike to Sammie Coates for 12 yards and a first down, Marshall gave the Tigers breathing room on a drive that led to a Cody Parkey field goal.

While it wasn't a performance that will remind anyone of Pat Sullivan, Dameyune Craig or Cam Newton, the one thing Marshall did was keep his team in the game and allow the running game and defense to win it. Turnovers were a concern for a quarterback known for taking chances last season in junior college, but in his first action for the Tigers he protected the football and that's a huge step in the right direction. Now if he can build on his second half it should lead to bigger and better things for the Auburn offense as it continues to try to find a rhythm under Malzahn, Rhett Lashlee and company.

Props to Ryan Russell

Not sure if I have ever seen a more impressive performance of stamina and endurance than many of the players on Auburn's defense showed on a very muggy Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Without much in the way of depth and facing an offense that ran 88 plays in the game, the Tigers held up and never backed down an inch, even getting stronger in the second half. That'a testament to the program put in place by new strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell, but also the work ethic of the Auburn players determined to turn things around in 2013.

Cadillac is Back

In 2011 Auburn freshman defensive back Robenson Therezie was one of the more promising newcomers on the Tigers' roster. A standout on special teams and playing a role on defense as well, Therezie finished with 17 tackles that first year and also returned five kickoffs for 112 yards. Looking for a bigger and better season in 2012, Therezie inexplicably couldn't find a way to get on the field for defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's scheme and instead wasted away moving from defense to offense and back.

When Ellis Johnson was hired to coach Auburn's defense, he brought in a new 4-2-5 scheme and with it a chance for new life for Therezie. A good fit for the "star" position, Therezie battled with Justin Garrett and was headed for major playing time this season.

When Garrett injured his foot in the preseason it opened the door for Therezie to make his mark and Saturday night he kicked it down. Picking off two passes to equal Auburn's total from last season as an entire team, Therezie's play was one of the bright spots on defense and he could quickly become a player opponents have to plan for when they take on the Tigers this season.

Looking Ahead

This week is going to be an intense one on both sides as Arkansas State comes to Auburn looking to upset their former coach and many staff members now with the Tigers. For Malzahn and company there is never a game you want to lose, but this one holds even more meaning. Off to a good start with a win over Washington State and with Mississippi State and the SEC opener looming next week, getting win number two and building even more confidence is almost a must early in the 2013 season.

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