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Auburn’s Invisible Quarterback.

By on January 30th, 2014 in Football 10 Comments »

The top returning quarterback in the SEC.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! Today, the icy state of Alabama thaws out, and we look forward to spring football. With the state shut down, I had plenty of time to catch up on my reading. One thing that really struck me was that nationally and even around the SEC, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is getting little mention. What little ink the Auburn passing game gets is to repeat that Auburn has a defensive back throwing the ball, and that the passing game is an afterthought.

     Occasionally, some of these rs ought to look at the facts. If one were to actually check some national numbers, it turns out that Nick Marshall finished 9th in the FBS nation in adjusted quarterback ratings. He finished ahead of such luminaries as A. J. McCarron, Braxton Miller, Connor Shaw, and Tajh Boyd. Of the 8 guys ahead of him, Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, and Clint Chelf do not return in 2014. My question is this: how is the 5th best returning quarterback in the nation left off all the preseason Heisman watch lists?

     The Auburn passing game was interesting to watch develop in 2013. It looked very shaky in the season opener, as there were a number of missed throws, and dropped balls. I think folks tend to remember the drops and overthrows from September, but those largely went away as the leaves turned last fall. Today, we’re going to take a look back, and see how the Auburn passing game developed week to week during the 2013 season.

     Against Washington State, Auburn’s defense had a hard time getting off the field, and the Tiger offense only ran 65 offensive plays. As would be a pattern for most of the season, Auburn ran the ball effectively and often. Nick Marshall threw the ball only 19 times, hitting 10 of the for 99 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. Most completions were short passes, and there were some dropped balls. Marshall also contributed 27 rushing yards on 9 carries. It wasn’t a very auspicious start, but Marshall did not turn the ball over, either.

     The Arkansas State game provided a similar blueprint. Again, Marshall was 10 of 17 for 147 yards, no picks, and 2 touchdowns. Yardage total was better, thanks to a big 68 yard completion to Sammie Coates. Marshall added 53 yards on 8 carries for good measure. Jonathan Wallace played a bit in this one, hitting a 20 yard screen pass and rushing twice for 7 yards.

     In game 3, Mississippi State came into Jordan Hare Stadium and shut the Auburn running game down, holding the Tigers to just 120 yards on the ground, a season low. It was up to the Auburn passing game to move the ball. Folks continued to opine that Marshall looked like a DB taking snaps, but all Marshall did was to move the ball and direct Auburn on a late game-winning drive. For the game, Marshall hit 23 of 34 passes for 339 yards, 2 interceptions and 2 touchdowns, including the game winner. Marshall added 22 rushing yards. Folks, 300 yard passers are rare in Auburn history.

     In the rain against LSU in Baton Rouge, the passing game regressed along with the whole team. Nick Marshall had 3 early turnovers that helped put this game out of reach. What was encouraging was that the Auburn quarterback did not lose his composure. Marshall finished the game completing 17 of 33 passes for 224 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Marshall also ran 14 times for 46 yards.

     Auburn dialed the passing game back, and really started relying on the run against Ole Miss at home. Marshall hit on 11 of 17 passes for just 93 yards, with no scores and no interceptions. For the second week in a row, he had a lost fumble, but that was the only turnover. Where Marshall exploded in this game was on the ground, carrying the ball 14 times for 140 yards and 2 scores. Late in the game, Marshall took a shot on the sideline, and limped through the rest of the game.

     Nick Marshall sat out the homecoming game against Western Carolina, and Auburn folks were a bit nervous about Jeremy Johnson getting his first start. Johnson shined against the out-gunned Catamounts, hitting 17 of 21 passes for 201 yards, 1 interception, and 4 touchdown passes. Folks, it’s hard to hit 17 of 21 in a skeleton drill! Johnson got a little more than a half of work, rushing for 26 yards on 3 carries. Auburn went all-wildcat with Jonathan Wallace and Khiel Frazier for most of the second half.

     Marshall was back for the Texas A&M game, and struggled a bit on the road. He lost a fumble, and hit only 11 of 23 passes for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns. Marshall was again electric on the ground, putting up 100 yards on 20 carries with 2 touchdowns. While Auburn folks had hoped for a higher completion percentage, Marshall delivered in this game when it was on the line. Producing 336 total yards and 4 scores isn’t bad, against a top-ten team.

     Nick Marshall attempted only one pass against Florida Atlantic, for a 10 yard completion to Marcus Davis. Marshall left the game late in the first quarter, after a hard collision on the sideline. Before he was gone, though, he had rushed 6 times for 73 yards and a score, and had staked Auburn to a 21-0 lead. Jeremy Johnson took over, and hit 10 of 16 passes for 192 yards and 2 touchdowns. Johnson also had 21 rushing yards on 4 attempts. After Auburn pushed the lead to 45-10 in the 3rd quarter, it was back to the all-wildcat offense with Frazier and Wallace.

     In Fayetteville, Arkansas effectively played keep-away from the Auburn offense, as the Tigers only ran 55 plays, and 32 of those were handoffs to Tre Mason. Marshall had a turnover-free day, hitting 7 of 8 passes, for 118 yards and a touchdown. Most of that total was an 88 yard bomb to Sammie Coates, who made a nice adjustment to an underthrown ball. Marshall carried 9 times for 59 yards against the Razorbacks, and Jeremy Johnson hit one pass for 15 yards.

     In Knoxville, Auburn sputtered early trying to pass, then just about completely abandoned the pass. Marshall hit only 3 of 7 passes, for 35 yards, with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Marshall made up for it on the ground, with his biggest game of the year, rushing for 214 yards on 14 carries, with 2 touchdowns.

     Against Georgia, the Auburn running game continued to plow for yardage the first three quarters, and Marshall mostly completed just a few short passes. In the 4th quarter, Georgia shut Auburn’s offense down, and roared back to take the lead with 1:49 left in the game. Marshall ran for one first down, then the offense stalled, ending up with 4th down and 18 yards to go. At that time, Marshall was 2 of 4 on the drive for just 7 yards, and a sack. On 4th and 18, Marshall threw up a deep hail Mary, and had the ball tipped to Ricardo Louis for a 73 yard touchdown! Auburn hung on for the win! For the game, Marshall was 15 of 26 for 229 yards with no interceptions and the one late touchdown. On the ground, Marshall churned 19 times for 89 yards and 2 touchdowns.

     Alabama felt that it had the best defense in the nation coming into the Iron Bowl this past year, but not even they could stop Nick Marshall. Marshall hit on 11 of 16 passes, for 97 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a game-tying 39 yard pass to Sammie Coates with just 32 seconds left in the game. Nick also had 17 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown.

     In the SEC Title game, Marshall had fumble troubles, losing 2 of 3 first half fumbles. However, he directed a relentless Auburn ground assault against Missouri that ate up 677 yards, including 545 on the ground. In the game, Marshall hit 9 of 11 passes, for 132 yards and a touchdown. He also ran 16 times for 101 yards and a score. Marshall’s 38 yard scramble and touchdown bomb to Sammie Coates was an amazing show of athleticism and accuracy, and it staked Auburn to an early 7-3 lead.

     On the biggest stage of them all, the BCS Title Game, Marshall continued to play well. The Auburn offense ground out 449 yards, and 31 points, which should have been enough to win. Marshall connected on 14 of 27 passes for 217 yards, 1 interception and 2 touchdowns. Marshall also rushed for 45 yards on 16 carries.

     For the season, Nick Marshall hit 142 passes out of 239 attempts, good for 59.4 percent. He had 1976 passing yards, or 8.27 yards per pass. Marshall had just 6 interceptions on the season, 14 touchdown passes, and 6 lost fumbles. On the ground, Marshall rushed 172 times for 1068 yards, with 12 touchdowns.

     In relief of Marshall, Jeremy Johnson hit 29 of 41 passes, or 70.7 percent. He had 422 passing yards, or 10.29 yards per pass. Johnson threw two interceptions and 6 touchdown passes. Johnson also rushed 7 times for 47 yards.

     All in all, this past season resulted in one of the best quarterback performances in Auburn history. The Tigers have 3586 yards returning at the quarterback position, good for 256 yards per game on a run-heavy offense. The nation may not know much about Nick Marshall right now, but he’ll be a household name by next December, I think.


  1. AUcideng42 AUcideng42 says:

    How long it has been for both AU and Gus!? And technically Gus has 3 QBs back if you include JJ and Tucker Tubbs.

    Thanks for the great post! I was making a similar argument for Marshall on someone’s way-too-early Heisman list. As great a year as he had in 2013, I believe Nick should have even better statistics in ’14 for the following reasons:
    – Nick Marshall will finally have a spring practice and full off-season to get in sync with the receivers, a problem throughout the year even though it did improve a bit down the stretch.
    – Gus will finally have a QB back with a full season of experience and game film to use for improvement. Coach has to be salivating at a chance to really polish up the details of such an athletic QB.
    – AU loses a huge chunk of our rushing power with the departures of Robinson, Mason, and Prosch. Gus molds his offense to his personnel, and he would have been a fool not to take advantage of all that tallent in the run game. I still think AU has some impressive rushing stats (with potentially 2-3 1k+ rushers), but look for more reliance on the passing game for personnel reasons because…
    – Auburn returns basically ALL of the passing personnel from ’13. End-of-year stars Coates, Louis, Uzomah, and Bray are back; Jaylon Denson (an off-season standout and consistent blocker) is back from injury; and there is plenty of talent left on the bench. (And maybe Trovon Reed finally lives up to the hype his senior year?) Add to that JuCo star Williams, who if he lives up to even half the hype will be a dangerous weapon and complement to the passing game.

    You think JJ has a shot to win the starting job in the spring? Looking at the stats you list, he does appear to be the more consistent passer which may be what Gus needs this year (not that I’m worried either way…) -WDE!

    • Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

      “Gus has 3 QBs back if you include JJ and Tucker Tubbs.” ….. I believe he’ll have 5 QB’s back with Josh Wallace and new recruit, ‘Elite 11’ Sean White.

      Really enjoyed the read Acid. I hope they keep under estimating Marshall and he will continue to beat the competition! War Eagle Nick!

      • AUcideng42 AUcideng42 says:

        I was just referring to the QBs on the roster in 2013 that will be returning for 2014, which is why I didn’t include Sean White. I totally forgot about Jonathan Wallace even though Acid mentioned him above (must be the after-effects of Eternal Sunshine-ing 2012), and I guess he didn’t transfer like Kiehl Frazier. Good catch PMT!

        It’s so refreshing to have so much depth (and quality) at the QB position again.

        • Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

          Understand. I was just thinking about Josh Wallace. I’ve always been a big fan of his. Just like Kodi Burns, I know him to be a good person. I would like to see him get a chance ( like Kodi did) to play another position. But I agree, the QB depth is really a good thing.

  2. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..JJ looked good, but most of his numbers were rung up against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic, neither of which could muster much of a pass rush against Auburn’s stout offensive lines.

  3. wpleagle wpleagle says:

    I watched the Arkansas game again this past weekend. I remember feeling a bit down about Auburn’s play in that game, despite the 18-point win. It was a revelation, watching it after the season had ended, and I smiled a lot more during the replay (helps knowing that it was a win). The Nick and Tre show was a job to watch during that game, as was the AU red zone defense. I was glad that Arky QB’s were so inaccurate, though – could have made a bad difference for us if they hit on some of the poor throws.

  4. NoVaFan34 says:

    Because, with all due respect to BoJax and Cam, the Heisman Trophy is as much about preseason hype and PR propaganda as it is about merit. Look at how Tre Mason was utterly ignored by the national media until the SEC title game. Then he outshone Winston – who, despite all the postgame accolades that come gratis with winning, was shown to be a mediocrity who can’t read defenses all that well and who basically was basking in the glow of a great receiving corps. Why do you think Jimbo Fisher made a point of planting that BS “stolen signals” meme in the media for every FSU jackwagon to mindlessly repeat? To preserve the illusion of his great QB. You can bet that ACC D-coordinators will be studying that game in the offseason.

  5. Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

    I think it’s another year before JJ gets serious playing time. It’s truly exciting to think about Marshall getting an entire off season with Gus and Lashlee. But he also gets the whole off season with his happy wide receivers. BooYa.

    I’m nervous that the Razorbacks are our first game…at the same time, oh man, I just can’t wait!!

    War Eagle!

  6. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Quite honestly, I’m not as worried about Arkansas as the season opener. Historically, that’s when you WANT to play a Bret Bielema team. He boot camps the heck of of them, and they’ve had some not-so-stellar performances in September up at Wisconsin. It’s kind of like Tuberville was prone to the ho-hum openers.

    …..Just glancing at some of Bielema results: 14-7 over San Diego State in 2006, 20-13 over UNLV in 2007, 13-10 over Fresno State in 2008, 28-20 jover Northern Illinois and 34-31 over Fresno in 2009, 20-19 over Arizona State in 2010, and 26-21 over Northern Iowa in 2012.

  7. el757 says:

    As much as I love Nick, and as incredibly underrated as he was towards the end of the season, he still has glaring weaknesses that I think justifiably knock him out of the Heisman talk. For example: locking onto a receiver from the huddle (Ricardo Louis at the end of the UGA game and missing a WIDE OPEN Sammie Coates at the first down marker) and some horrifically ugly throws (like the dropped touchdown pass on the opening drive of the BCS game – Ricardo should’ve had that one, but it was a SUPER ugly throw to a wide, wide, WIDE open receiver). I mean, the dude made an awful decision to give up the sure first down with a wide-open best receiver and throw a super low probability pass into triple coverage. Then he underthrows a touchdown by yards and yards. Glaring errors on the biggest stages.

    Like I said, I love Nick. I think he’s great for Auburn and does an incredible job. He does have some just sick awesome plays like the laser he threw to Sammie while running toward the line of scrimmage during the SEC game. I’d put him on a watch list (which I suppose is the point of this post) but I don’t think he was among the top handful of players this season (I’d rank Tre ahead of him this past season by a country mile). I am very hopeful that with a whole off-season under Gus we’ll see a lot of those kinks get worked out.