World, meet Nick Marshall. Nick Marshall, meet world.
The junior quarterback for the Auburn Tigers had a day for the ages on Saturday, rushing for a career-high 214 yards and two touchdowns in Auburn's 55-23 win over Tennessee in Knoxville. It tied the third-highest rushing total by an Auburn quarterback in program history and was the first time a Tigers quarterback has topped the 200-yard mark on the ground since Cam Newton did it against LSU in 2010.
So, how far has Marshall come since Week 1?
Through the air, not far—due in large part to a limited sample size.
He attempted just eight passes against Arkansas two weeks ago and only seven against the Vols. On the surface, it may seem like head coach Gus Malzahn doesn't trust his junior college quarterback.
Would you blame him?
Marshall is two years removed from playing defensive back for the Georgia Bulldogs, and when he won the job this summer, it marked the first time Malzahn entered a season with a quarterback who didn't go through spring practice.
Against Arkansas two weeks ago, Marshall was coming off an injury to his throwing shoulder, and it was clear that Malzahn was protecting him a bit. Against Tennessee, three of Marshall's seven pass attempts came in the first drive of the game. Malzahn recognized that there was no need to throw, and he ran Tennessee out of its own building.
"When you're running the football just keep doing it," Malzahn said in quotes released by Auburn. "That's kind of who we're developing in to. I still believe we can throw the football. There's no doubt in my mind that we can, but when you don't have to, there's a pretty good feeling when you can line up and run the football at will."
Despite the limited sample size, there has been some improvement. Marshall showed off his arm strength in his first drive as a Tiger, airing it out about 70 yards to Sammie Coates in the opener versus Washington State (above). One problem, though: Coates was only 60 yards downfield.
The next week, on a similar play against Arkansas State (below), Marshall hit Coates in stride, and he waltzed into the end zone for a touchdown. Marshall put more touch on the ball, and it resulted in an easy six.
Marshall's arm strength has never been in question, but he has taken the next step as a passer.
It's the touch passes where Marshall has progressed. His 27-yarder to Marcus Davis to set up the game-winning touchdown versus Texas A&M was nothing short of impressive, and his one touchdown pass versus Tennessee—a 25-yarder to C.J. Uzomah—was eerily similar.
On the ground, Marshall is making the right decisions in the read-option.
The screenshot below is of the opener versus Washington State. Marshall handed off to the running back despite the defensive end crashing. Had he kept it, the only man standing in his way was a linebacker.
Fast-forward to Saturday, and Marshall's progression is clear.
On his 38-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter in the screenshot below, he properly reads the defensive end, recognizes that the linebacker was caught inside and takes it to the house.
His ability to grasp Malzahn's offense and make proper decisions has been a big reason why Auburn's rushing attack has taken off.
Will Nick Marshall pass for more then 2,500 yards in 2014?
"He's a great athlete. He's starting to understand the offense, he's making the right decisions and when he gets the ball out in space, he can really do some things," Malzhan said after the Tennessee game.
Marshall has progressed in both aspects of the game, and the best is yet to come.
There's only one senior on Auburn's two-deep depth chart on offense—H-back Jay Prosch.
Marshall is raw, no doubt. But he's operating in a system that fits his game with a coach in Malzahn who knows how to use him with players who he will continue to develop chemistry with for a prolonged period of time.
In other words, the best is yet to come.
*Screenshots courtesy of YouTube.com