The Auburn Tigers began their 2014 quest to repeat as SEC champions with Saturday's A-Day spring game, which the Blue took over the White, 58-3.
They may have played against themselves, but the Tigers showcased that they will still be an offensive force to be reckoned with in the SEC just as they were in 2013 with more than 700 total yards between the two teams—including 657 from the Blue squad.
Even though he toted a non-contact orange jersey, Nick Marshall was the driving force behind the Blue's victory thanks to his new-look passing attack, which had him finish 13-for-22 passing with 236 yards and four touchdowns.
Marshall wasn't making the defense pay with his legs like usual, but he still gashed the White squad with two passing touchdowns in each of the first two quarters. Within minutes of the first plays, it was apparent that the Blue team would be on a first-half offensive assault.
B/R SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee was on hand in Auburn to catch A-Day and the revamped Marshall. Even early on, it was apparent that it would be a pass-happy day for the typical rush-first quarterback:
Four plays, four passes for Auburn. Clearly trying to get a good look at "Nick Marshall 2.0"— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) April 19, 2014
The Tigers will have their hands full replacing Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason, but head coach Gus Malzahn got a promising glimpse into the future of the running back position Saturday with Peyton Barber, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne as three of the biggest names to watch.
Barber played on the White squad and showed some burst in his only run—a 13-yarder—but fumbled and was injured on the play. Things didn't look good for him as he was carted off, per Sallee.
The Auburn Plainsman's Eric Wallace noted how positive of a spring Barber had, which makes his loss and potential injury an even bigger blow in the early moments of the game:
RB Peyton Barber, who received a lot of praise throughout spring practice, fumbled and came up injured on his first carry. Tough start.— Eric Wallace (@EWall14) April 19, 2014
Malzahn later said Barber should be "OK," per Sallee.
Meanwhile, Grant only grabbed five carries on the day but turned them into a wildly productive 128 yards with a score. Artis-Payne toted the rock 12 times for 97 yards and also got into the end zone.
With Marshall not rushing, Auburn's backs were still able to find open lanes just like Mason did plenty in 2013. That's a sign that bodes well for the Tigers heading into 2014, where they will certainly still be a run-first team despite Marshall tossing 22 passes in limited action.
The passing weapons made themselves known as well, with Quan Bray, D'haquille Williams, Melvin Ray, Sammie Coates and Tony Stevens all catching touchdown passes.
Williams particularly stood out to college football columnist Bruce Feldman, who said Auburn's coaches have been high on the junior college transfer:
JC standout Duke Williams snags a Red Zone TD. Expect to see that a lot this YR for #Auburn. Rhett Lashlee raves abt how physical he is.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) April 19, 2014
But of course, with Auburn playing itself, the question now becomes whether the offense is that good, or if the defense was that bad.
The Blue squad racked up 657 yards on 62 plays, an average of more than 10 yards per snap. The Blue defense was solid in allowing just 85 total yards, but many of the Tigers' first-team defenders were on the White squad that was gashed.
However, Malzahn wasn't looking too much into things after the game and noted that it was more of a first team against second team deal:
Auburn's Gus Malzahn on 58-3 final: "We tried to play ones vs. twos as we did last year. I don’t read anything into the score."— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) April 19, 2014
Even with the final score inconsequential, Auburn's fanbase came out by the thousands for A-Day and racked up one of the biggest attendance totals of a spring game this year, per Sallee:
70,645 here at Jordan-Hare Stadium for Auburn's spring game.— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) April 19, 2014
Coming off a brutal, last-minute BCS national championship loss to Florida State, Auburn has a serious shot at rebounding to contend for the SEC yet again in 2014. The Tigers are losing talent, but not much more than counterparts Alabama and LSU.
This Auburn team won't truly be revealed until Marshall is live and can make teams pay with his legs, but even with him only dropping back and making handoffs, Auburn can still be unstoppable on offense. That's a scary thought for the 12 teams in their schedule.
And, obviously, the best news is that there didn't look to be any serious injuries as B/R Auburn Lead Writer Justin Ferguson noted:
Malzahn expects everybody to be healthy and ready to go at the start of fall camp.— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) April 19, 2014
During the Auburn A-Day festivities, the Tigers added their 2013 SEC title flag to Jordan-Hare Stadium as you can see below:
A-Day is one of the best spring game traditions in the nation, and Auburn once again proved its place among the best teams in college football, even if it was Tigers vs. Tigers.
All stats courtesy of AuburnTigers.com