Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall established himself as an effective runner in the Tigers' 30–22 victory over Ole Miss. Marshall's accuracy as a passer, however, remains a concern. Auburn fans witnessed an all too familiar sequence Saturday night.
Early in the game, on a 1st-and-10 play from the Auburn 41, wide receiver Sammie Coates took off from the line of scrimmage like a shot. The Ole Miss defender seemed to be waiting to see which way the sophomore receiver would cut, but Coates simply ran past him, creating a scoring opportunity for the Tigers.
Marshall, unfortunately, threw the ball beyond his receivers' reach. Instead of celebrating a touchdown, Coates again made the long, defeated jog back to the line of scrimmage. Why is this one play a big deal?
The problem is that this disappointing sequence has played out in almost every Auburn game of 2013, dating back to the season opener against Washington State. On Marshall's first pass attempt as Auburn's quarterback he threw the ball far beyond a wide open Coates.
It was easy to attribute that overthrow to over-excitement. It was, after all, the first pass attempt of a new football season. But, then Marshall overthrew Coates on the deep route in the second game, against Arkansas State, and again the next week against Mississippi State. Part of the agony for Tiger fans seeing Marshall's passes sail over Coates' head is they know how good it looks when it works.
After the overthrow against Arkansas State, Marshall later connected with Coates for a 68-yard touchdown. He also hit Coates for a 52-yard completion against LSU. That play was part of a 94-yard drive that culminated with a Tre Mason touchdown run.
If we set aside that Coates was so open on the other opportunities, the success rate for the deep route might seem acceptable. But, there's another problem.
Marshall has been inaccurate with short passes as well. On a 2nd-and-4 play against Ole Miss, Marshall missed Brandon Fulse on an easy short throw that would have earned a first down. The possession instead resulted in a three and out.
The question now is this: Can Marshall improve his accuracy for the remainder of Auburn's schedule?
Regarding the deep route, is putting touch on a long pass something that can be developed during a season? If that's possible, now is the time to do it—with only Western Carolina to face this Saturday before traveling to College Station next week.
Marshall has been at his best when running Gus Malzahn's offense in true hurry-up fashion. The best examples are the Tigers' last drive against Mississippi State—6-of-8 with 66 yards and a touchdown—and the first drive against Ole Miss—2-of-2 with 33 yards, plus 28 yards rushing.
That last drive also resulted in a touchdown.
Perhaps running the offense at a quicker pace is the answer. Regardless, Marshall has to improve his accuracy for the Tigers to continue exceeding expectations. They didn't need the home run ball to beat Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but they may need it to beat Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama.
Josh Dowdy is a contributor to Bleacher Report and the author of Orange Is Our Color: The Tuberville Years through Navy-tinted Glasses.
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