Passing Game Getting Work During Bye Week

Auburn has spent the bye week working to improve the passing game with quarterback Nick Marshall as the Tigers prepare to face South Carolina next week.

Auburn, Ala.--If you just look at the numbers for Auburn senior quarterback Nick Marshall the 2014 season hasn’t started the way the Tigers wanted. Completing just 55.4 percent of his passes in the first six games, Marshall has thrown for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns this season with only three interceptions.

While the inconsistency remains for the talented two-year starter for the Tigers, there is no question that Marshall has improved as a passer in 2014. Making better decisions with the football, he has shown the ability to hit his second and third targets by going through his progressions, something he wasn’t doing a year ago.

Marshall has also made some excellent throws down the field that haven’t resulted in completions. Getting some of those plays taken away because of penalties has also been a problem with three such plays last weekend against Mississippi State, one that would have been a touchdown and two others that would have put the Tigers in scoring position.

It’s plays like that and production at the position that has Auburn Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee feeling good about the progress of Marshall so far this season. Even though the offense has done some good things, he said his quarterback needs to take things to another level if the Tigers hope to maximize the passing game down the stretch.

While the 65 percent completion percentage goal Lashlee placed on Marshall before the season might not be realistic, the coach said it needs to rise in the second half of the season.

“I think he’s got to be better, especially with the shorter passes, that’s where he’s not doing as well,” Lashlee said. “He’s actually throwing it down the field right now.

Rhett Lashlee

"Some of those high percentage completion balls have got to be completed and at the same time we’ve got to limit our drops," Lashlee pointed out. "I think it goes both ways. For the most part though I think going into the game his efficiency rating was pretty good. That’s at the end of day and I gave that percentage and I probably shouldn’t have, although that was pretty lofty and that’s ideal because he was right at almost 60 last year.

“But things are changing, we’re figuring it out with the personnel we have and we’ve got different guys he’s throwing to," Lashlee added. "It may not be as much about the percentage of completions as it is the efficiency, and as long as we’re throwing touchdowns, not interceptions, maybe getting chunk yardages and making the throws when we need them, then that’ll probably be good enough.

"I don’t know where his completion percentage will end up, but overall he is getting better. There’s still a handful of plays that I really wish he’d have done something different the other night, as does he, but you can say that at any position.”

One of the problems areas in the passing game this season has been the number of batted or deflected balls at the line of scrimmage this season. They have contributed directly to two of Marshall’s interceptions with the other coming when he was hit on the arm against Mississippi State. With changes up front this season and an injury to Patrick Miller forcing a shake-up the last two weeks, Lashlee said the entire team has to do a better job of handling pressure up front and it doesn’t fall just on Marshall.

“Most of the time you’re not going to see a guy jump up,” Lashlee said referring to the first interception against Mississippi State. “That’s why Coach (J.B.) Grimes did some good things at Kansas State, and we’ve done since, on cutting some guys, that have helped him. If it’s a deeper throw down the field like it was the other night, if guys get pushed in your face, you can’t get that ball batted down.

"The digs, things running across that aren’t timing throws, that’s where a quarterback’s got to find a lane and he’s got to do a good job of throwing through an alley or throwing through a lane and not getting the ball knocked down.

“Those are things he can control, but a quick game and timing throw, it’s tough to ask a quarterback to do anything other than throw on time because if so then he’s going to be timid and not accurate on his other ones. It’s probably a bunch of things. He could maybe find some lanes on some things, we could probably do a better job not getting pressure in those areas and then maybe even there’s some things we can look at this week that’ll help. Obviously, this year it’s been more an issue than last year.”

The Tigers will get an opportunity next week against South Carolina to see just how much they have improved throwing the football. Head Coach Gus Malzahn said he’s seen some good things to this point, but is looking for bigger and better the rest of the 2014 schedule.

“I think at times we've really been clicking,” Malzahn said. “Of course, at other times you can tell we've been a little bit off. It's just a matter of being more consistent.

"I know this week has been really good for us," Malzahn added. "We really went back to just the basics of our base pass scheme, the timing of everything, different looks. You can really slow down and you're not trying to scheme up an opponent or predict how they're going to play you. You can just kind of worry about the timing of your base passing game. I know that's really helped us the last two days and we're really hoping that will show and pay off on the consistency part in the second half.”

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