Nick Marshall “Light Years Ahead” of 2013 Performance Against Mississippi State


Sep 14, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall (14) throws a pass against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the first half at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

From a gross statistical standpoint, Nick Marshall had a career day last season against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The quarterback completed 23 of his 34 passing attempts for 339 yards, all of which are still career highs. Marshall tossed two touchdowns last year against MSU, which was a personal best until September 27 of this season when he had three TDs against Louisiana Tech.

Most importantly, he found tight end CJ Uzomah in the end zone with ten seconds left on the clock to give the Tigers a dramatic come-from-behind 24-20 victory. It was a turning point of sorts for the Tigers under a new head coach and a new quarterback. After a winless record in SEC play in 2012, beating Mississippi State gave Auburn a 3-0 start to the season and a 1-0 mark in league play.

However, Marshall was far from perfect. In just his third career start, Marshall threw two interceptions against the Bulldogs. He was still learning the Auburn offense after transferring from junior college mere months earlier and winning the quarterback competition in fall camp.

The following week against LSU, Marshall struggled throwing the football, which prompted the coaching staff to retool the offense for the remainder of the season and focus more on a power rushing attack. The rest, they say, is history, and Auburn ran all the way to the SEC Championship and a spot in the final BCS National Championship Game.

Entering Saturday’s trip to Starkville, Marshall is “light years” ahead of where he was the last time he face Mississippi State, according to head coach Gus Malzahn.

Some of the progress can be seen on the stat sheet. The senior is off to a strong start to 2014, having completed 55 of his 95 passes for 755 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception through five games. His completion percentage in 2014 (57.9%) is lower than it was last season (59.4%), but his rating (150.3), raw QB rating (83.3) and adjusted QB rating (85.5) are all better than they were last season (143.2, 72.1, and 81.9, respectively).

And of course, Marshall is still a dynamic weapon on the ground. Through five games, he is averaging 78.4 rushing yards per outing, which is an improvement of 20.8 yards per game over the first five weeks of the 2013 season.

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Diving deeper, Marshall is also more accurate, despite the lower completion percentage. In 2013, 2.5% of Marshall’s passes were intercepted. This season, just 1.1% of Marshall’s attempts have found their way into enemy hands. And, if not for some untimely drops or near misses where a receiver was overthrown or couldn’t catch up to a deep ball (Sammie Coates, usually, as he struggled with a leg injury early in the season), the passing numbers could be much better.

Furthermore, Nick Marshall has improved his mechanics as a passer and the Tigers recruited more weapons for the quarterback to utilize on offense – chiefly fellow JUCO transfer D’haquille Williams who has emerged as the team’s leading receiver with 25 catches for 385 yards and three touchdowns. The senior QB has emerged as a true Heisman Trophy candidate.

Despite leading the nation in rushing in 2013, the coaching staff wants to Auburn throw more in 2014 than they did last season. That should make the offense more difficult to defend moving forward, and it already appears to be paying dividends.

Despite concerns from the Auburn fan base that the offense is off to a sluggish start, the Tigers are actually ahead of last season’s pace. Plus, Auburn racked up 566 yards of total offense last week in a 41-7 victory over LSU – 298 on the ground, and 268 through the air.

It’s a good thing that Nick Marshall has progressed so much in the last 13 months. The No. 2 Auburn Tigers will need him to play even better than he did last year because Mississippi State and their starting QB – fellow Heisman contender Dak Prescott – are also much improved. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 3 by the Associated Press, and are preparing to host what is quite possibly the biggest game in program history when the Tigers visit Starkville Saturday.