Marshall Plan Coming Together For Tigers

Auburn QB Nick Marshall continues to make strides for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--When Auburn brought in junior college quarterback Nick Marshall for the 2013 football season and he won the starting job without the benefit of going through spring practice, many wondered just what Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee had with the talented, but inexperienced signal caller. Now seven games into his first season on the Plains, Marshall has turned into a playmaker for the 11th ranked Tigers and one of the most explosive players in the SEC.

Through the first four weeks of the season Marshall was up and down, showing the ability to make plays,but also missing some key throws along the way. In a win over Mississippi State he drove the Tigers the length of the field for the game-winning touchdown pass to show his potential in the passing game. Showing more running ability in the win over Ole Miss before a late run down the sideline injured a knee and kept him out of a homecoming win over Western Carolina, Marshall was beginning to put it together.

That showed up on Saturday as the Tigers took down Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel behind a solid all-around game from the junior quarterback. Completing 11-23 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, Marshall also added 100 yards rushing and two more scores on 20 carries, mostly out of the zone read. That is a play that has opened up a new world for the Auburn offense and offense and Lashlee said the more they work on it the better it gets.

"Nick has gotten more and more reps at it," Lashlee said of the reasons for improvement in his running. "He's gotten more and more reps with Tre (Mason) and Cameron (Artis-Payne) in-game. We work it all the time in practice, but in-game reps, you get a bunch of different looks in a game, especially when you're having success. That last drive or two, they were doing all kinds of different stuff every play, but our line was having to adjust to it. You've just got to trust your reads and follow your rules and play. The more reps you get at it, the better. Obviously Nick being the threat he is, when he does keep the football is obviously what helps it out when we do hand it to the running back."

While the running threat keeps increasing with Marshall in the game, his inconsistency in the passing game still creeps up from time to time. On Saturday he missed two throws to C.J. Uzomah that would have been big gains and also threw high to Sammie Coates on the final drive before a laser to Marcus Davis for a key first down. Lashlee said they're continuing to work on all phases of the passing game, but are paying particular attention to the pocket throws and timing routes that are needed in order for the offense to take the next step.

"I think that's been the biggest adjustment for him in our system is the timing throws instead of just dropping back sand finding people, you see he's a little more comfortable when things break down than the timing throws," Lashlee said. "We're going to keep working it. Obviously I felt Nick played a really good football game, but there were some throws out there that we got to make, we just have to make.

"To win moving forward we have to make them and he knows that. There's some times that maybe the ball is not going to be right here, it may be here, our wide outs – we got to start making those catches to help us out. It goes both ways. Nobody's working harder. He's throwing it well in practice,. We've got to carry it over into the game."

Coming off a week when he threw for 201 yards and four touchdowns while getting his first career action, true freshman Jeremy Johnson was used only a handful of times by the Tigers against Texas A&m and each time for just one play. Lashlee said that wasn't the plan going in, but situations dictated going back to Marshall. He said they'll continue to get Johnson involved in the offense and it will be different from week-to week.

"We had packages, we had plays for Jeremy," Lashlee said. "We had things that were in the plan that, some we didn't get to for maybe how they were playing us some to the way the game unfolded. I thought Nick was playing really well. There was a plan no matter how Nick was playing to get Jeremy infused in certain ways and it didn't involve putting him in for a play and taking him out. We don't want to get into that scenario. It just, unfortunately, went that way and I thought he did well. Two throws, you come in cold, they're not easy. They weren't terrible throws. We've got to hit them. But the plan will change week to week moving forward. It'll be a plan that is clearly defined, at least from our side of things, because we feel like there are certain things he brings to the table and does well and we went to put him in position to be successful."

While Johnson will continue to get some reps in Auburn's offense, Marshall has firmly cemented himself as the starter for the Tigers with his play this season. Completing 57.3 percent of his passes for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns with four interceptions, Marshall has made the throws when the game is on the line. Adding 388 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, he provides another solid running threat for a team averaging 300.1 yards per game this season. Lashlee said when you put it all together things could get really interesting.

"He's just got a calmness about him," Lashlee said. "He knows how to win and whether it's throwing for over 300 against Mississippi State, or against Ole Miss and A&M doing more with his feet, he's not rattled. When something bad happens, like he misses a few throws in a row -- which happened in the second quarter and stalled us a couple of times -- or we fumble, he's done a good job of having a short memory and going forward and getting on to the next drive. His teammates believe in him. I know he believes in them and that's been a positive for us."

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