Extended Practice Time Important For Marshall

The extra practice time for the Jan. 6 BCS National Championship Game should be beneficial for Nick Marshall and Auburn's passing game.

Auburn, Ala.--Jumping in and running the show for the Auburn Tigers without the benefit of going through spring practice, junior quarterback Nick Marshall has done a good job of growing more comfortable in Gus Malzahn's offense each and every week. That has shown in his play.

Since the loss at LSU the Tigers have won nine consecutive games on the way to earning a spot in the BCS National Championship Game against Florida State. Over that span Marshall has accounted for 19 touchdowns and only five turnovers, with four of those fumbles. Totaling 2,782 yards of offense this season, the dual-threat quarterback showed drastic improvement after each of Auburn's two bye weeks during the year and that's the hope once again with three weeks before the Jan. 6 kickoff against Florida State.

Treating this week like an extended spring practice, Auburn is working with some of the younger players and giving them extended looks on both offense and defense. While Marshall has had plenty of opportunities to take snaps during the year, the chances to work on techniques and the fundamentals of the position have been few and far between. Malzahn said that's something that will be a focus for Marshall and Rhett Lashlee while the team practices on campus before heading to California.

"This is the first time other than the two off weeks we're able to focus on some little things that I know Coach Lashlee and him are working extremely hard on," Malzahn said. "I think he's gotten more comfortable. He has a big-time arm. The more comfortable he gets, the better we'll be executing the passing game."

Marshall agreed with his head coach. Having the chance to work on his mechanics and spend time with Lashlee should prove to be a big boost for the junior quarterback when the Tigers take the field again.

"(I'm) just working on my drop steps and being more accurate with the ball, and stepping more into my throws and keep getting more in the read-option with my footsteps," Marshall said. "I didn't have too much time to work with him (Lashlee). But I know during the off season I'll have some time to work with him."

Becoming just the fourth quarterback in SEC history to rush for more than 1,000 yards, Marshall has done some big things for an Auburn offense that leads the nation in rushing at 335.7 yards per game. His only problem has come in ball security with fumbles continuing to be a concern. Against Missouri he lost a pair of fumbles, one that was returned for a touchdown, and had another near fumble. Malzahn said that even though his decisions in the passing game have been much better there is still work to be done.

"He's doing a great job with his decision-making, we've just got to have him hold the ball," Malzahn said. "That's the biggest thing from the last game. We've got to protect that football better than we did."

There is no question that the gameplan for Auburn when the Tigers step on the field in the Rose Bowl will again be to run the football. That's what this team does better than any team in the country, but chances are Marshall and company will be called on to make some big plays in the passing game.

Against a Florida State defense allowing only 10.7 points and 116.5 yards per game on the ground, the Tigers will need to be able to connect on some shots down the field when the opportunity presents itself. Auburn's offense hasn't had many chances to work on throwing the football because of its success on the ground and because of that the practice time will be critical to get ready for that very thing in the Rose Bowl.

"We've been working in our offense," Malzahn said. "We've haven't used all of it at times because we've been able to run the football effectively. You've always got to be prepared that if they take away something, you've got to have an answer. We'll try to continue to try to get better at the different things that we need to and what I call the 'what ifs.' We've got to be able to have an answer if they take something away."

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