Marshall's Improvement Making A Difference

Auburn senior quarterback Nick Marshall is playing at a very high level for the 2014 Tigers as they prepare for the final four games of the regular season.

Auburn, Ala.--While Auburn’s running game continues to get much of the attention, quietly the Tigers’ passing game has continued to improve with Nick Marshall becoming more of a steadying influence for Coach Gus Malzahn and company.

Always capable of making the big play, Marshall’s consistency combined with a wealth of talented targets outside has added an extra dimension to an already dangerous Auburn offense in 2014 and has put the senior in the discussion for the Heisman Trophy.

“I think our quarterback is one of the better offensive players in college football,” Malzahn said. “I think he has proven that time and time again. I would say if you compare to what he does to some of these other guys they talk about, he definitely needs to be in the mix.”

Completing 59.6 percent (99-164) of his passes through eight games, up from 57.6 at this time last season, Marshall has thrown for 1,357 yards and 13 touchdowns with only four interceptions for the Tigers. Last season at this time he had completed 83-144 throws for 1,148 yards and six touchdowns with four interceptions. That is a huge increase in productivity for the senior quarterback in his second season at Auburn.

To show how much improvement Marshall has made throwing the football and making decisions all you have to do is look at his pass efficiency rating. Currently 25th in the nation at 149.3, Marshall is ahead of names like Jake Waters from Kansas State, Everett Golson from Notre Dame, and Trevone Boykin from TCU.

His productivity has taken off even more the last two games with the running game becoming more consistent from start to finish in games. In wins over South Carolina and Ole Miss, Marshall has completed 27-36 passes (75 percent) for 393 yards and three touchdowns with eight different receivers targeted in that span.

Making plays in clutch situations has become something of a trend for Marshall as well, a skill he showed against Ole Miss with huge third down throws to Sammie Coates and Duke Williams to keep scoring drives alive. Delivering in the clutch is what playing quarterback is all about and Malzahn said Auburn has one of the best in that department.

“You’re talking about a guy that when the game is on the line and the pressure is the highest he plays his best,” Malzahn said. “Once again he played a great game the other night. He is one of the better quarterbacks in the country and one of the better players in the country.”

With Marshall running the show and Cameron Artis-Payne leading the SEC in rushing, Auburn’s offense is performing well as the Tigers prepare to face Texas A&M this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Needing more quality offensive performances down the stretch if the Tigers want to make a run at the college football playoffs this year, Malzahn said at the moment they are on the right track.

“I feel like we’re improving,” Malzahn said. “We’re getting a few more yards on the perimeter, which is opening up things in the middle. We’re hitting some deep balls down the field, which opens up the run game. It all works together. I feel like we’re improving.

"I’m not ready to say compared to last year towards the end, but the plan will be that if we can keep improving like we have then we’ll have a chance to be where we were at last year at the end.”

Tiger Ticket News and Notes

Despite Auburn’s struggles in the secondary it doesn’t appear that senior safety Jermaine Whitehead will be back on defense anytime soon. Reiterating that playing special teams is still part of the punishment, Malzahn said at the moment there are still no plans to insert him back on defense for the Tigers.

“He came back and he's working on special teams and he's going to try to be the best special teams player he can be,” Malzahn said of Whitehead. “We'll see how that goes. I'm not ready to go there yet.”

Auburn freshman running back Roc Thomas sat out much of last Saturday’s win over Ole Miss after rolling his left ankle early against the Rebels. Held out of the action even though he likely could have gone if needed, Thomas is expected to be ready this week said Malzahn.

“He practiced the other night and he’ll practice again today,” Malzahn said. “We expect him to play. We’ll see how he is later in the week.”

A player who stepped up in last week’s win was true freshman deep snapper Ike Powell. Starter Forrest Hill was injured in the fourth quarter on an Ole Miss punt return, forcing Powell into action. He was in the game for Auburn’s final two punts and delivered perfect snaps on both, putting Malzahn and the Tigers in a good position from a depth standpoint the rest of the season with Hill listed as “day-to-day” on Tuesday.

“Ike did a wonderful job in a very tough spot, especially making that snap in the last minute of the game when they knew they had to come after it,” Malzahn said. “That was a big-time play. That gives us great confidence moving forward. We’ve got two guys we feel very good about at that position.”

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