Auburn fans in Jordan-Hare Stadium saw something Saturday that they haven't seen in quite some time.
It almost came from out of nowhere. The Tigers led, 14-3, with less than three minutes remaining in the first half. After a pair of running plays, facing a 1st-and-10 at their 32-yard line, it seemed as if the Tigers were content with their early lead over Arkansas State.
That's when Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and wide receiver Sammie Coates rocked Jordan-Hare, connecting on a 68-yard, over-the-shoulder touchdown pass to help put the Tigers up big going into the locker room.
That play was a game-breaker. From there, the Tigers never looked back en route to a 38-9 victory.
It was also Auburn's first 60-plus-yard pass since Cam Newton was playing on the Plains in 2010.
"It was a well-executed play," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. "The line did a good job on their blocks, and we got the safety down. He ran a really good route at the top, and it was a really good throw. That's what it is supposed to look like."
And that's what Marshall is supposed to look like.
After a less-than-stellar debut last week against Washington State, Marshall made strides in his second game on the Plains, finishing 10-of-17 for 147 yards and two touchdowns, adding another 53 yards rushing.
It wasn't perfect, but for the most part, those first-game jitters were gone Saturday, as Marshall finished with fewer overthrows and wide-open misses and more big-time plays.
"Way more comfortable," Marshall said of his composure Saturday compared to last week. "I just went out there and did what I do best.
"I talked to (backup quarterback) Jonathan Wallace before the game, and he told me just to be cool, calm and collective. So that's what I did."
For Malzahn, Saturday's performance was just the first step on a long road for Marshall.
"He is getting more comfortable each practice," Malzahn said. "He was a little more comfortable this game than last week, and I feel like that will improve. The guy didn't go through spring. He is still learning as he goes. He is very hard on himself, and he has a chance to improve each game."
Marshall was calm and collected throughout the night, starting with his first touchdown pass as an Auburn Tiger, an 18-yard dart to Marcus Davis over the middle to cap the opening drive of the game.
He was efficient, completing 58 percent of his passes and avoiding the big interception—a key emphasis from Malzahn to his first-year quarterback.
His playmaking with his feet and his give-and-takes on read options helped the Tigers' running game roll up 301 yards.
More than in the season opener, Marshall's performance displayed the potential he has as a starting quarterback. But it wasn't perfect.
Marshall did show one weakness, fumbling the ball away deep in Auburn territory in the third quarter. The Tigers' defense bailed out the quarterback, coming up with a three-and-out and forcing an Arkansas State field goal.
"Obviously, the turnover down there was very critical," Malzahn said. "He did some good things. He improved from the first game."
For now, that's just where Malzahn wants Marshall—improving from one game to the next.
"I think I did well, but there's still some room for improvement," Marshall said. "The mistakes I made tonight, I'll work them out in practice."
Quotes obtained firsthand.
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