Monday Morning QB Column: Marshall Steps Up

Nick Marshall's performance Saturday night is a huge positive for Auburn's offense moving forward.

Auburn, Ala.--Nick Marshall won't be confused with former Auburn Heisman winner Cam Newton anytime soon, but Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium the junior quarterback had his own signature moment as the Tigers defeated Mississippi State 24-20.

Trailing by three points and 88 yards from paydirt with under two minutes remaining, Marshall engineered the most impressive drive by an Auburn football team since Newton was running the offense. Starting 12-play possession with a six-yard run, he then hit freshman Marcus Davis on three consecutive pass plays for 29 yards to move the Tigers out to the 41-yard line.

Before he could hit tight end C.J. Uzomah for the game winner, Marshall took advantage of his quick feet to keep the drive alive. Facing a third down and 10 from the MSU 25, Marshall scrambled left and raced 11 yards for a first down to secure four more downs and a chance to win the game.

With just 10 seconds left on the clock Marshall connected with Uzomah on a double-move for the winning touchdown. It capped an impressive night for Auburn's starter in just his third game on the Plains.

Completing 23-34 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns while adding 22 yards rushing, Marshall accounted for 361 of Auburn's 459 total yards in the win. Throwing his first two interceptions of the season, one on a Hail Mary on the last play of the first half and the other on a tipped pass, Marshall had just nine more incompletions on the night with at least three drops by receivers.

With the running game struggling to get going against a Mississippi State defense determined to take away that part of Auburn's offense, it was up to Marshall and the passing attack to deliver and that is exactly what happened.

Before the season I talked about the word "hope" and what it means to a football team. The first two weeks Marshall had shown glimpses of what he can do on the field and what, in turn, that could do for Auburn's offense. Saturday night that hope turned to reality and wide receiver Quan Bray noted that is what an offense and a team needs.

"That means a lot," Bray says. "We always know no matter if it's third down or whatever we have a quarterback that can tuck it and run and get the first down. He can keep the offense moving. Our offense moves good when we convert those third downs.

"He proved we can win a game by throwing the ball," Bray adds. "At the end of the game, no matter if he overthrew somebody earlier or whatever happened, he made the plays that mattered."

What does Marshall's performance mean moving forward for the Tigers? That's anybody's guess, but one thing is for sure, opponents have to be much more wary of Auburn's passing potential following Saturday night's win.

Showing the ability to put a team on his back is perhaps the biggest hurdle a quarterback has to overcome. You can check that off the list of things that the 2013 Tigers need and that could mean more happy Saturdays for Marshall and the Tigers down the road.

Line Play Still Lacking

Even though Auburn is 3-0, the Tigers are still a long way from being the physical football team that Malzahn wants and expects moving forward. That was evident on Saturday night as Mississippi State controlled Auburn's running backs, forcing Marshall to shoulder the load on offense for much of the night.

Defensively, the front four is still a work in progress for Coach Rodney Garner. While he is getting some production from some of the newcomers in the middle of the defensive line such as Ben Bradley and Montravius Adams, the veterans still aren't holding up their end of the bargain. Facing a powerful LSU offense this weekend, that must change in a hurry if Auburn has any chance of advancing to 4-0.

Final Quarter Turnaround

Last season Auburn was outscored 76-36 in the fourth quarters of games and seemed to wear out physically and mentally under the strain. That has not been the case in 2013, however, as strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell's offseason training program has Auburn hitting its stride late in games. Outscoring its first three opponents 20-0 this season in the final 15 minutes of games, Auburn has shown if it can keep the game close this team has a chance to win.

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