Auburn Football: Tigers Need Nick Marshall to Shine in Second Half


Sep 6, 2014; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall (14) looks to pass during the second half against the San Jose State Spartans at Jordan Hare Stadium. The Tigers defeated the Spartans 59-13. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn senior quarterback Nick Marshall is one of the best players in the nation. He entered the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and has played very well in the first six games of 2014. But for the Tigers to play their way to the SEC Championship Game and into the College Football Playoff, their senior quarterback needs to shine in the second half of the season.

So far, Marshall has completed 72 of his 130 passing attempts (55.4%) for 964 yards and ten touchdowns. He’s been intercepted three times, two of which came after passes were deflected, for a very respectable interception rate of 2.3%. A true dual threat, Marshall has 492 rushing yards and four TDs on the ground, both of which are the second most on the roster.

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His completion percentage is lower than expected and lower than the 59.4% he completed last year, and Marshall is primarily to blame. The Georgia native has missed his fair share of targets, but Tigers’ receivers have played a part as well with some key drops. Plus, Auburn asks Marshall to throw down the field often following play-action, which is a low percentage throw for anyone.

But the bottom line is that Marshall individually, and the Tigers’ offense as a whole, can be (and needs to be) better in the second half of the season.

“At times this year, he’s played extremely well, and at times, he’s missed something,” head coach Gus Malzahn said this week. “This off week has been really good for us, and I think he’s in a position where he can improve.”

Improvement in the second half is something Marshall knows well. In 2013, it was a big reason the Tigers were able to run the table in the regular season following an early loss to LSU and make it to Atlanta and Pasadena. It’s something he’ll need to do again in 2014 for the Tigers to respond the same way following a 38-23 loss to Mississippi State two weeks ago.

Marshall completed 56.6% of his passes through his first six games of 2013. He tossed only six touchdowns, was intercepted four times, and was just beginning to make an impact with his legs. The rest of the year, he completed 71 of 119 passes (59.7%) with ten touchdowns and only two picks. He also averaged 111.4 rushing yards per game across the last seven games of the season.

“I do feel better about where we’re at this year than we were last year at that point,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said this week.

And why not? Auburn’s offense is currently averaging more points and more total yards per game at this point in the season than they did through the first six games last season. A big reason is that the Tigers have been balanced on offense and are capable of making big plays both through the air and on the ground.

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  • “Balance is dictated on what they give you. It’s not that balance is, ‘hey we’re going to be perfectly rushing yards to passing yards.’ That’s not the way it works,” Lashlee said. “Balance to me is taking what they give you. If they give you the pass, you’ve got to be able to execute it. If they give you the run, you’ve got to be able to execute it.”

    It’s that ability to capitalize on what the defense gives the Tigers that makes Auburn, and Marshall, so dangerous.

    The Tigers have executed well enough to average 262 rushing yards and 225.8 passing yards through the first six games of the season, which is a much more balanced output than last season. The 2013 Auburn football team relied primarily on the rushing attack for a nation’s best 328.3 yards on average last year, but threw for only 173 yards per game, which ranked 106th in the country.

    Marshall has more weapons in the passing game this season, primarily the team’s leading receiver Duke Williams. The junior’s 31 catches are 19 more than the next closest Tiger and Williams also leads with 493 yards and five touchdowns. Now that Sammie Coates is fully healthy and Quan Bray has provided big plays on offense as well as special teams, there’s no weak spot for Auburn on offense.

    But the strongest spot is behind center. With a big second half Nick Marshall can put himself back in the Heisman conversation, and more importantly he can put the Tigers back in Atlanta.

    Next: Auburn vs South Carolina Game Day Prediction

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