AUBURN, Ala. -- It shouldn’t have come as any surprise Saturday when Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-22 victory over Ole Miss. Those are ordinary numbers compared to what he was putting up in junior college a year ago.
In his lone season at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, Marshall averaged close to 100 yards per game on the ground. He eclipsed the 200-yard mark twice, including a game when he rushed for 216 yards and four touchdowns.
“He can make every throw on the football field,” said his former offensive coordinator, Matt Miller. “But when the defense has everything covered, he can pull the ball down, go 50 yards and score a touchdown on you.”
After four games at Auburn, the only surprise was that Marshall hadn’t put up bigger numbers rushing the ball. He had just 148 yards total during that stretch.
The Auburn coaches recognized the problem. They had an extra week to prepare for Ole Miss, and they made it a point in practice to get Marshall more comfortable running the read-option and give him plenty of opportunities to make plays with his feet.
“We want him to be more aggressive running the football,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “I felt like he definitely had, not just statistically, but you could just tell he seemed faster. I think he was playing, just playing and reacting, and not thinking too much.”
On the opening drive, Marshall kept it once and scrambled for a gain of 28 yards, his longest run of the season. From there, he grew more confident and started picking up big chunks of yards against the Ole Miss defense. He looked like a natural directing the read-option, making the right call every time.
“I thought he helped us win the game and helped us win the game with his feet,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “I think he is really talented with the read-option, and there’s a lot of pressure on defenses when we can execute it.”
The read-option always has been a big part of what Malzahn likes to do, going back to do his days as Auburn’s offensive coordinator, when Cam Newton ran it. However, the play puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback to read the defense and make a quick decision.
Early in the season, Marshall was handing the ball off more often, but the game plan clearly changed against Ole Miss.
“I was just taking what the defense gave me,” Marshall said. “Like I told Coach Malzahn, I was reading the defense and how they were [playing]. I really knew what was coming the majority of the time because I watched film with Coach Malzahn and Coach Lashlee.
“I feel way more comfortable now. I’ve settled into the offense more, and I can just really play to my abilities now.”
It could have been an even bigger day on the ground had it not been for an injury that left Marshall gimpy in the second half. He was able to play through it and finish the game, but he clearly wasn’t at full speed down the stretch.
“You've always got to worry about that, but we know that when Nick's playing, that's our game,” Lashlee said. “He's got to be a dual-threat guy.”
Marshall was treated by the staff Sunday, and he’s expected to return to practice and play against Western Carolina on Saturday.