“Anytime you’re done with the season you look back,” Malzahn said. “From a coach’s standpoint I can’t get that last game out of my mind. When you come up 13 seconds from winning the whole thing, I think about it every day.”
There is plenty of reason for optimism for Auburn with the bulk of the offense returning following a record-setting year last season in which the Tigers averaged 39.5 points and 501.3 yards of offense per game and becoming the first SEC team in history to lead the nation in rushing. Even though they’ll have to replace Tre Mason and Greg Robinson, Malzahn said there is still plenty of firepower left to work with.
“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back,” Malzahn said. “That’s a good thing. Four of our five offensive linemen are coming back and we’re a run/play-action team. We’ve got a lot of receivers that can make plays down the field. I’m excited and we’ll see what happens.”
Much of the reason for optimism on offense is centered around the return of one of the receiving corps in the country led by juniors Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis as well as senior Quan Bray. Throw in junior college transfer D’haquille Williams and veterans like Jaylon Denson and Melvin Ray and the Tigers have all the weapons to be a much more dangerous offense in 2014.
“At least since I have been at Auburn this is the most talented receiving group that we’ve had,” Malzahn said. “Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis are deep threats that can really run. Duke Williams, you bring him in and he’s a phenomenal talent, and Quan Bray will be a three-year starter. We’ve got a lot of guys that can make plays in one-on-one situations and anytime you can run the football effectively you’re going to get those one-on-ones.”
Just how much the receivers can impact the game will depend on how much improvement quarterback Nick Marshall shows throwing the football this season. Completing 59.4 percent of his passes last year for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns with just six interceptions, Marshall got better and better as the year went along. Now with a spring under his belt and a chance to get better at the fundamental side of the position, Marshall’s play will be a focal point for the Tigers this season.
“In the spring Coach (Rhett) Lashlee really worked hard on his (Marshall’s) footwork, from really the waist down,” Malzahn said. “He’s got a natural throwing motion and can throw it 75 yards and make all the throws. We just really tried to focus on our passing game and really felt good after the spring that we can be more balanced.”
Malzahn said there still has been no decision made on additional punishment or a possible suspension for Marshall after his off-the-field incident. Marshall was left at home for SEC Media Days and also missed a trip to the ESPY Awards as punishment. If Marshall were to miss time sophomore Jeremy Johnson would step into the role as first-team quarterback for the Tigers if needed.