AUBURN, Ala. — No player in the country should enter Saturday with more confidence than Nick Marshall.
Yes, it may sound like a bold statement, but the last time we saw Auburn’s quarterback, he was putting the finishing touches on a game-winning drive against Mississippi State. It was a possession dominated by Marshall; of the 88 yards the Tigers gained to score, the quarterback accounted for 85. (Running back Tre Mason had a three-yard run one play before C.J. Uzomah’s touchdown reception.) The drive typified what Marshall had been known for in high school and junior college, but showed in only brief glimpses as a Tiger thus far: The ability to keep plays alive with his feet, and if need be, just keep the ball himself.
That’s in addition to his passing, of course. Prior to that final possession, it had been a bit of an uneven showing from the junior signal-caller, throwing two interceptions (against one touchdown) and once again missing a touchdown by overthrowing an uncovered receiver, as he couldn't connect with a wide-open Sammie Coates on the previous drive.
All of that was rendered moot after his touchdown toss to Uzomah.
Teammates and coaches believed they saw the future flash before their eyes.
“I thought he really grew up a lot,” fullback Jay Prosch said. “He has an unbelievable amount of potential, and I think he's starting to get into that. His confidence is building every week. That was just a huge step up and a big sign that he's definitely progressing.”
There are small things that need work, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said, which mainly came down to protecting the ball better. That can (and should) improve over time.
Otherwise, he was pleased with Marshall’s progress in just three games as the starter. There’s a reason he won the job in fall camp, after all.
In large part, Marshall has his superlative athletic talent to thank for that.
“His ability to ad lib and keep plays alive — maybe if we call a play and it’s not quite there, to make something out of it — is definitely a strength,” Lashlee said, “and something we saw when we decided to go with him.”
While Marshall has passed all tests so far, Saturday presents a different challenge: a road game. And it’s not just any road game, as Auburn travels to Baton Rouge, La., to face No. 6 LSU in Tiger Stadium, one of the best home fields in college football. Oh, and Auburn hasn’t won there since 1999.
Got all that?
Making sure Marshall is comfortable on the field is nearly as important as making sure he doesn’t get rattled off it.
Uzomah said teammates have done their best to explain to Marshall what chaos awaits Saturday.
“We don't have any doubt that he won't maintain his composure, but we have been telling him it's going to be crazy,” Uzomah said. “From us pulling in on the bus, people yelling at us, to talking into the stadium to anywhere in between, it's going to be like an atmosphere he hasn't encountered before. We told him that we're going to be with him and we're going to be able to capitalize as an offensive unit to (help him) relax out there.”
So what happens if Auburn pulls off the upset and starts 4-0?
For starters, Marshall will be able to walk away with his head high once more. And he’ll be able to revel in a victory a bit longer, since the Tigers have a bye next week. Yes, a win this Saturday means the confidence will remain — and reach levels unforeseen to this point — when Auburn returns to play Ole Miss at home Oct. 5.
Only one thing will have changed.
When Marshall runs into Jordan-Hare Stadium with the rest of the Tigers on the first Saturday in October, he will be at the helm of a ranked team.
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