January 15, 2014

What's next for Nick Marshall?


AUBURN | Gus Malzahn loves to run the football, always has loved running the football, and showed the college football world that a well-staffed rushing attack can transform a program very quickly.


He flipped the Tigers' fortunes by winning a Southeastern Conference title and finished within one defensive stop of a national championship. SI.com recently ranked the top 25 games of the entire college season; Auburn games alone comprised one-fifth of the list.


Without Tre Mason and the offensive line and some hard-nosed receivers and dogged coaching and shrewd play-calling, Auburn wouldn't have become national darlings. The rushing attack made the difference and that fact is impossible to ignore.


Yet Nick Marshall may be the most important element going forward.


That's not to ignore what he accomplished this season. The junior rushed for 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns, providing a perfect complement to Mason that made a very good ground game even better. Marshall was a great runner in junior college and he's been a great runner at Auburn, which was an important reason why Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee felt comfortable emphasizing the run so much this season.


Auburn ran it 72 percent of the time in 2013.


Can the Tigers continue gutting SEC opponents with that kind of run-pass distribution?


"We could be more balanced," Malzahn said recently, "but at the same time we're going to play to our strengths. We'll see where we're at with the talent around him. We really feel like we can be effective in the passing game."


Malzahn will have a luxury during the next eight months that he hasn't experienced since his days at Springdale High: Coaching the same quarterback for a second season. It's karmic payoff for the unusually difficult situation Malzahn mitigated last August when he chose Marshall as his quarterback despite having spent less than a month on campus at the time.


Marshall endured a crash course the likes of which haven't been seen before.


"I don't know that there's ever been a situation similar to that," the head coach said.

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