AUBURN, Ala. -- In the season opener, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall looked all out of sorts in the first half. He was nervous and understandably so -- it was his first start for the Tigers. However, before the second game, the junior college transfer turned to an unlikely source for advice.
“I talked to Jonathan Wallace before the game, and he told me just to be cool, calm and collected, so that's what I did,” Marshall said. “I just went out there and did what I do best.”
The encouragement from his fellow quarterback must have worked. On his first pass attempt, Marshall rolled out and connected with Trovon Reed for 17 yards and a first down. He completed his next two throws and capped the opening drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Davis, his first at Auburn.
“Early on, I thought he was clicking a lot better,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “As the game went on he had some ups and downs, but as a whole, I think he felt more comfortable.”
The second drive was more of the same for Marshall, who used both his arm and his legs to drive the Tigers down the field for another score. Two drives, two touchdowns, and the Auburn quarterback looked not just comfortable, but dangerous.
After back-to-back three-and-outs, Marshall struck again, this time with the deep ball. He hit Sammie Coates in stride on a 68-yard touchdown pass, a connection that had been close multiple times through the first two games but not quite there.
“That big pass play was huge,” head coach Gus Malzahn said. “I mean, that kind of gave us a sigh of relief right there, so we could open up and play.
“It was a well-executed play. The line did a good job on their blocks, and we got the safety down. He ran a really good route at the top, and it was a really good throw. That’s what it is supposed to look like.”
At halftime, Marshall was 7 of 12 for 139 yards with the two touchdowns. He also led the team with 59 yards rushing. In all, it was a far cry from his first-half performance in the opener.
“I think he did a great job,” running back Corey Grant said. “It seemed like he got better [Saturday]. It seemed like he didn't really have any jitters. He came out playing real smooth from the start, and you could see how he played that it carried over from practice.”
In the second half, Marshall completed just three passes for eight yards, but that’s because he was handing the ball off the majority of the time. The coaches were conservative with him down the stretch, partly because he fumbled the ball in the third quarter while trying to elude a pass rush. It was his first and only turnover through the first two games.
Despite the miscue, Marshall still showed improvement. He knows he’s going to have to continue that trend with conference play right around the corner.
“I felt way better than I did last week,” he said after Saturday’s victory over Arkansas State. “There's still more improvement in the offense, but we're just going to get better as the year goes on. We're looking for more rhythm and really just more execution.”
Marshall will face his first SEC test this weekend when Mississippi State comes to town.
“Going out, it’s the same thing,” he said. “Everyone still has 11 people on the field, so we’re just going to play, go at them and take care of business.”