AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn didn’t think Nick Marshall played too well last Saturday.
But he didn’t believe his first-time signal-caller was terrible, either. As most things in life are, it was somewhere in the middle.
With the benefit of going back and watching film, Auburn’s head coach had a fuller perspective on Marshall’s first start as a Tiger.
“It (was) pretty average,” Malzahn said. “Our expectations, you know, he's only been here four weeks but still our expectations are high. The No. 1 thing he did was protect the football, and that can't go overlooked.”
Malzahn didn’t dispute Marshall had to battle his nerves for the early portion of the season-opening contest against Washington State. No, he didn’t make the right decision every time, noting Marshall’s “eyes wandered in other places” on certain instances. The coach believed Marshall eventually steadied himself, though.
“He had jitters, there's no doubt,” Malzahn said. “And that's to be expected, to come in and play quarterback and everything. He started settling down toward the end of the game and that will help him moving forward.”
While he may have established a rhythm as the offense’s leader by game’s end, one area where Marshall seemed to misfire time and again was on deep passes, overthrowing multiple open receivers. Malzahn said not every incompletion could be laid at the feet of his quarterback.
“The first one they actually had us covered and I think he was just throwing the ball away. It may have looked like he overthrew, but he’s really throwing the ball away,” Malzahn said. “I thought that was a good play at the time. The one to Ricardo (Louis) was very close. It’s within a couple of inches there. He throws the deep ball extremely well and I think the more that he does it, the better he’ll get. The intermediate passes (that require) touch, that’ll come as we go too.”
To render a verdict on Marshall’s career after one game would be a mistake, Malzahn said, since the coaching staff is still gathering information about the quarterback as much as he is memorizing the playbook.
“We're learning Nick as we go, too,” Malzahn said. “We're learning what he's comfortable with, what he's not comfortable with, how he reacts in certain situations. With each game, our comfort zone will get better and better.”
Malzahn took umbrage with people who wanted to point to Marshall’s passing stats and cite that as proof of a poor performance. Leaping to his quarterback’s defense, Malzahn said the only number that mattered was Marshall’s record standing at 1-0.
“Here’s the thing about a quarterback,” he said. “They usually get too much credit and they usually get too much blame. In our offense that holds true just about every week. The people around them have to be in the right spot and execute. It all works together. It’s a whole.”
And the sum of its parts was far from a well-oiled machine last week. After breaking down and grading the offense, Malzahn said it worse than he initially believed.
“It was below average now that I watched the film,” he said. “Like I said, (the mistakes are) correctable and we got to execute. We got to do what we’re supposed to do and it takes all 11 and that’s not easy. But it’s not easy to win either.”