Auburn rode a major wave of late-season momentum all the way through the SEC Championship Game and into a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
Now, that momentum has screeched to a halt.
The Tigers have 30 days to prepare for their showdown with No. 1 Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena on Jan. 6, during which time every aspect of both teams will be analyzed ad nauseam.
Auburn was running like a team on a mission down the stretch, rushing for 841 yards in its final two games against Alabama and Missouri, teams that came in with the SEC's top two rush defenses.
With a month to prepare, Florida State's defense—which ranks third nationally in total defense (268.5 yards per game)—is bound to come up with something to shut down running back Tre Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall on the ground, right?
Well, maybe. But the layoff should benefit Marshall more than any other player in the game.
Marshall played defensive back at Georgia two seasons ago and didn't enroll at Auburn until after spring practice. He had five weeks of fall camp to prepare for the season, which isn't a lot of time to knock the rust off after one season at quarterback at Garden City (Kansas) Community College.
All he did was complete 60.4 percent of his passes (128-of-212) for 1,759 yards, rush for 1,023, account for 23 total touchdowns (12 passing, 11 rushing) and throw only five interceptions, leading the Tigers to a 12-1 record.
|Month||Comp. %||Passing YPG||Passing TDs||INTs||Rating|
To his credit and the the credit of Auburn's staff, Marshall has continued to progress throughout the season, particularly with his decision-making on read-options. Through the air, he has become more efficient as the season has progressed, improving upon his passer rating in each month of the season.
Now it's time to become explosive.
The Tigers have been one-dimensional by choice, thanks to a multi-dimensional rushing attack that allows them the luxury of not having to pass all that often.
That can change now that Marshall is back into a camp setting during bowl practices.
"This is the first time, other than the two off weeks, we're able to focus on some little things that I know he and [offensive coordinator] coach [Rhett] Lashlee are working extremely hard on," Malzahn said according to Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com.
What's different now is that Marshall is a known commodity, and the coaching staff can use the time to refine his skills through the air.
What will Nick Marshall's completion percentage be in the BCS National Championship Game?
"I think he's gotten more comfortable," Malzahn told Goldberg. "He has a big-time arm. The more comfortable he gets, the better we'll be executing the passing game."
That could be dangerous for Florida State.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher's crew has a solid secondary led by cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and safety Terrence Brooks, and those guys are going to be counted on in run support at times. If Marshall can develop as a passer during the layoff just enough to keep that secondary honest, it could spark even more life into that punishing Auburn offense.
Florida State needs this time to prepare for Auburn, but Marshall needs this time to improve.
An improved Marshall could be the difference between the crystal football taking up real estate in Auburn or Tallahassee.
Time is on his side.