Auburn Football: Who Should Play Quarterback Against Western Carolina?
At the end of Auburn's upset win over Ole Miss last Saturday night, Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall was coming up with an obvious limp.
He had just rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries on the ground, and clearly, that rushing performance had taken a physical toll.
Marshall was banged up, but it didn't seem like any kind of major injury—not then after the game and not through the first few days afterward.
"We expect him to be ready to go," head coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday. "I don't think it's anything that is too big of a deal."
But that tone has changed over the course of the week.
As recently as Thursday night, Malzahn has said that there's a chance Marshall could miss Saturday's homecoming game against Western Carolina. Malzahn said during his weekly radio show, "Tiger Talk," via Alex Byington of the Opelika-Auburn News, that Marshall practiced Thursday but that he had not decided whether the junior would play.
That's not the only decision Malzahn will have to make leading up to kickoff.
Malzahn also said that he and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee had not yet decided on who will take snaps in Marshall's absence—sophomore and backup Jonathan Wallace or highly touted freshman Jeremy Johnson.
"Me and Coach Lashlee, we'll get back together in the morning (Friday) and make a decision," Malzahn said Thursday night on "Tiger Talk," via Byington.
Wallace has been listed as the Tigers' backup quarterback on the two-deep all season and has seen action in certain spots as a Wildcat quarterback and in Auburn's every-down offense during garbage time.
Johnson has not seen a down of playing time this season—and his appearance Saturday would inexplicably burn a potential redshirt for the true freshman.
But Malzahn has said all week that there is a decision to be made as to whom will play Saturday in Marshall's place.
"I don't know yet," Malzahn said Wednesday, via Byington. "We're still working through that. Jonathan (and) Jeremy have got a lot of reps in practice since fall camp and even during the season. We'd be confident in both of those guys executing our offense."
Even if Marshall does play and start, he won't play for very long in what will be a runaway Auburn win over FCS Western Carolina.
Eventually, Marshall will check out of the game—and Malzahn's decision as to who comes in off the bench in his place could be very telling.
"Jonathan Wallace is one of the biggest winners we have on our team," Malzahn said Thursday on "Tiger Talk," via Byington. "He's definitely a very good quarterback in his own right."
If Malzahn chooses Wallace to take snaps Saturday, the first-year coach would be making a safe choice to solve a temporary problem in replacing Marshall for a week against FCS competition.
If he sends Johnson into the game to burn his redshirt against the Catamounts—of all teams—Auburn fans would only be left to wonder what would drive Malzahn to make that decision. It is unclear at this time whether or not Marshall's knee injury is more or less serious than originally thought.
Wallace finished last season 46-of-80 for 720 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions, starting Auburn's final four games of the dismal 2012 season as a true freshman. Johnson was a highly touted, universal 4-star recruit coming out of high school before signing with the Tigers in the spring.
Regardless of who takes snaps behind center Saturday against Western Carolina, Auburn fans can only hope that Marshall will be back next week when the Tigers travel to play Texas A&M.
Justin Lee is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @byjustinlee. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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