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November 26, 2013
NAMEDROPPER: Better with age
AUBURN | Nick Marshall ran the ball often in junior college, but needed some time to gain familiarity with the read option at Auburn.
Still, the learning curve appears to behind him.
The junior quarterback has rushed for 372 yards and four touchdowns during the past three games. His ability to make shrewd, split-second decisions in the run game has helped Auburn emerge as one of the NCAA's top rushing attacks.
Tailback Tre Mason is a serial concern for defenses, but Auburn now has two effective rushers touching the ball during most run plays. Mason said Marshall's deft execution of the read-option attack, which took a step forward during the loss to LSU, has helped transform the Tigers' offense.
"It's not too much reading the (defensive) end anymore," Mason said. "It's just if he feels comfortable, if he feels that he can get outside, he'll fake (the handoff). That camaraderie between us two is very strong."
Auburn's run game is defying stereotypes.
Coach Gus Malzahn's system, which includes some spread principles, often is lumped in with pass-first spread attacks like the ones in use at Washington State, Fresno State and SMU. Yet the Tigers, with their two-pronged rushing attack, spend most of their Saturdays attacking the 'B' and 'C' gaps with option runs and designed powers.
Passing is optional for Auburn.
That's just fine with center Reese Dismukes, who believes his goal to be anchor of the nation's best offensive line is on the verge of being accomplished. To affirm that claim, though, Auburn must find a way to overpower Alabama.
That task won't be easy. The Crimson Tide comes into the Iron Bowl with the Southeastern Conference's top run defense.
"I don't think we've really looked at it like that," Dismukes said. "We just look at them on film and see what they've got and see what we've got and try to do the best we can."
Malzahn is quick to acknowledge Marshall's improvement, which has accentuated similar gains by the offensive line and Mason, and believes it's mostly a function of increased repetition. The quarterback didn't arrive on campus until the last week of June and had only token familiarity with the offense once fall camp opened a month later.
"We've never had a quarterback in our system not go through spring and what he's done is really amazing," Malzahn said. "He was learning the offense on the go on Saturdays -- and we were learning a lot about him. But he is a tough customer. He's mentally tough, he's physically tough and he's a great competitor."
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