Marshall shows poise to lead Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. -- The stage was set. Auburn trailed Mississippi State by three with 1:56 to go and had one last drive to tie or win the game. The offense took over at its own 12-yard line and put the ball in the hands of first-year starting quarterback Nick Marshall. It was his time, his moment. It was up to him to direct the offense down the field and win the game.

Marshall didn’t flinch.

“I told the [offense] that we were going to score a touchdown,” he said.

Through the first 58 minutes, Marshall had his ups and downs. He started 9 of 11 for 151 yards and a touchdown. He had more yards passing in the first quarter than he did in either of the first two games. But Mississippi State’s defense tightened up. Marshall proceeded to throw a pair of interceptions and failed to recover that early magic.

That was until the last drive. That’s when the light turned on. When most quarterbacks might fold under the pressure, Marshall thrived under it. He led the Tigers on a 12-play, 88-yard drive that was capped off by an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah. For the first time in nearly two years, Auburn had won an SEC game.

It was Marshall’s first SEC game, but he looked like he had been there before.

“He looked fairly natural there,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “I mean he was making all the reads. He was throwing good balls. I don’t know if he threw a bad ball on that drive, and he led us down the field. That was huge.”

On the final drive, Marshall was 6 of 8 for 66 yards. He also rushed three times for 19 yards including an 11-yard scramble that picked up a critical first down on third-and-long. He completed his first five pass attempts, including four to freshman wide receiver Marcus Davis.

“We just believe in the system,” Davis said. “We believe in Coach Malzahn, and Nick, he’s a confident guy. He just told us to believe, and we rallied behind him.”

The touchdown came on a double move by Uzomah where he burned the defender and caught the ball in the back of the end zone. It was a play the two had worked on multiple times in practice, but Marshall admitted that he had missed it probably 5 out of 10 times. But when the game was on the line, he connected on it.

“Nick grew up today,” Uzomah said. “Before he stepped on the field, he looked at us and said we’re going to win. He threw the ball perfectly. We executed, and we came out with a victory.”

Auburn moves to 3-0, but more importantly the Tigerts finally picked up that elusive SEC victory. It had been 10 consecutive conference losses, but the players can put the losing streak behind them once and for all.

For Marshall, it was a career-defining drive but he’s already turned his attention to next week’s game, a trip to Death Valley against No. 8 LSU.

“We are just going to come out tomorrow and focus on LSU,” he said. “We’re going to work on executing and not making as many mistakes as we did tonight.”