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December 2, 2013
On a run
AUBURN | Jay Prosch, the Tigers' cerebral yet rugged fullback, knew Nick Marshall's fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Sammie Coates was going to work.
Alabama's defensive backs had been cheating down to help against the run for most of the second half. Sooner or later, Prosch figured, the cornerback would crash too aggressively and Coates would run free and Marshall would be in position to take advantage of that subtle lapse.
It all sounds so easy.
Prosch knows it isn't.
"I don't know how guys like that do it. I've never been in a position to make a play like that," the senior said. "I don't know what it feels like, but I think it's just great awareness. Guys like that, those playmaker-type guys, just have a sense for it."
Marshall has that sense.
Auburn's quarterback may be the most valuable player in college football, though few outside the Tigers' sphere consider him anything more than adequate. Marshall is a gifted runner whose passing ability is unrefined, which creates a statistical footprint that doesn't fit squarely into mainstream concepts of quarterback success.
Yet he's wildly successful. So is his offense.
Marshall completed 59 percent of his passes during the Tigers' five most recent conference games. He has seven passing touchdowns (versus one interception) and eight rushing touchdowns to his credit over that span.
He's averaging 7.8 yards per carry.
Perhaps most important, Marshall is making shrewd decisions while administrating the read-option attack. That's the foundation of everything Auburn aims to accomplish on offense right now and requires the quarterback to make decisions based strictly on available data.
Emotion can play no role.
That's a good thing because Marshall rarely shows emotion on the field. And that has helped make him a perfect fit.
"I always say we are a quarterback-oriented offense," Malzahn said. "If our quarterback plays well, we play well, and if he doesn't, we don't. We put a lot of pressure on the guy as far as not just when the ball is snapped, but before the ball is snapped, after the ball is snapped and we rely on him a lot. I think it is a tribute to Nick. I think it is a tribute to Rhett Lashlee for getting him prepared."
Marshall isn't above being reminded to keep emotions in check, though. The junior from middle Georgia wears a silicone bracelet on his right wrist that reads: "Keep Calm and STFU."
STFU? Shut the (heck) up.
What that said, Bravado hasn't been an issue. Marshall isn't inclined to command the locker room with impassioned speeches, but his quiet confidence and ability to calmly engineer comebacks has given him elevated status.
As for how Marshall became such a force for Auburn in October and November, he has a simple explanation.
"I believe it's just being confident in yourself, being confident in the people around you and the offensive line," Marshall said. "I just stay clam and keep doing what Coach tells me to do -- just don't get too rattled. Just be cool, calm and collected and everything else will fall into place."