NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. Sammie Coates still cant believe it.
Thinking back to Nick Marshalls arrival at Auburn last summer, Coates recalled the quarterback didnt know a single aspect of the Tigers multifaceted, hurry-up, no-huddle scheme. Less than six months later, Marshall has morphed into one of the teams harshest critics, always searching for more. Its unlike anything Coates has ever seen.
Teammates cant help but respect it.
That win wasnt good enough, Coates said of Marshalls mentality. He always brings that to the table. He always shows us that hes got more in him. When you see a quarterback pushing that hard and bringing more out, weve got to bring more out to (match him).
Its a mind-set Marshall not only takes into every game it extends to every second hes on the field.
And at times, he admits, its to his detriment.
I just try to make a play every time, but it's not good to try to make a play every time, he said. Sometimes you should probably just throw the ball away and live the next down to play the next play.
When mistakes happen, Marshall is taken to task, much as any other quarterback would be. Thats not the only thing Marshall hears when he returns to the sideline, however. The junior signal-caller said Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee have mastered doling out praise and criticism in equal measure.
As Marshall puts it, Malzahn and Lashlees advice is simply to play ball.
If I mess up, just put that play behind me and just worry about the next one, he said. So I just put that in the back of my head. I just started playing my ball and not worrying about anything.
The words concern or worry havent entered Marshalls vocabulary since fall camp. In the midst of a four-way battle for the starting job, Marshall admitted the first two weeks were a struggle.
He was running unfamiliar plays in an unfamiliar place.
It wasn't something I was used to, he said. In high school we ran the spread. But as I got here, they sat me down and taught me how the offense worked and (I) studied on film and watched what we do. It went from there and I got better as the weeks went.
Malzahn couldnt agree more. With each passing day, he has seen Marshalls knowledge of the playbook expand accordingly. Specifically, Marshalls mastery of the read-option has grown to the point that opponents have to account for him every bit as much as teammate (and Heisman finalist) Tre Mason.
Not that any of Marshalls success running the ball as his 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns attest surprises Malzahn.
When we signed him, we knew he was a good athlete. We had to transition that over to the quarterback position, the coach said. I think you can see that once he gets out into space and in one-on-one situations, he is extremely hard to tackle. He is very tough. He has really impressed us this year.
Marshalls passing hasnt garnered quite as much attention. Still, he has shown he can make plays with his arm when needed. Coates aside, Marshall has also developed a connection with C.J. Uzomah. The junior tight end has only nine receptions this season, but hes made them count, as three have been for touchdowns.
One of those, of course, was the game-winning grab he made against Mississippi State with 10 seconds remaining, helping Auburn come away with a 24-20 victory.
While most focus solely on the 11-yard scoring toss as the first example of Marshalls calm under pressure, Uzomah said that would be a mistake.
To him, the entire game was a sign of things to come.
Driving us down on that two-minute drive, and not only using his arm but using his legs on a crucial third-down and getting me in a position to make a play in the end zone I think that game in itself was a staple of his growth and what he was capable of doing, Uzomah said. So I think that (me being a) safety valve helped him out a little bit, but that was mainly him being mature and growing up.
Marshall, ever the perfectionist, isnt satisfied with his improvement. Yes, he has made tremendous strides since joining the Tigers. But its still not enough.
If theres a way Marshall can squeeze more production out of himself, hes going to find it.
You can't get caught up on the good plays youve made, he said. You go back to practice and get better.