2014 Key Returnees:
Nick Marshall, Jeremy Johnson, Jonathon Wallace
Sean White redshirted, and Wallace only took snaps in mop-up duty or on gadget plays before switching to wide receiver around the time of the Georgia game. Jeremy Johnson started the Arkansas game, but never saw extensive playing time after that. The brunt of the quarterback work - as we expected - fell to senior Nick Marshall.
So how did Nick Marshall do? This is one of those cases where you really can compare one year to another and somewhat get away with it. Nick Marshall only played two seasons at Auburn. However, it's never that cut and dried, as his supporting cast was different each season.
There was a lot of teeth gnashing about Marshall's performance this season. The guy who sat behind me spent most of the season complaining about why Marshall was playing over Johnson and why Roc Thomas wasn't playing over CAP. So just how did he do in 2014?
293 pass attempts, 178 completions, 60.8% rating for 2532 yards, 20 TD and 7 INTs.
239 pass attempts, 124 completions, 59.4% rating for 1976 yards, 14 TD and 6 INTs.
That's almost perfectly proportionate in some ways when you take a quick glimpse at it. Marshall threw more passes in 2014 and everything matched up. You can't really say he improved too much, but he definitely didn't regress. I don't know how much of the difference is in play calling, reads, or what. For all the criticism of him as a passer, though, he really had a knack for throwing perfect passes when they were needed most.
When called upon to throw the football, Marshall could throw the football. He proved that in 2013 against Mississippi State early on in the season. He proved it in 2014 against Alabama, even if the Tigers lost the game. 27/43 for 456 yards is a great performance against a Nick Saban defense. In many ways I wonder how 2014 would have gone if Marshall had thrown the ball even more in some games. However, as we've spoken of before, the offense really wasn't the problem with 2014, so I won't go into that too much.
152 attempts, 798 yards, 5.22 ypc, 13 TD in 2014.
172 attemps, 1068 yards, 6.21 ypc, 12 TD in 2013.
This is similar to his passing. Marshall didn't run the ball as much, but for the most part his stats remained proportionate. Marshall actually averaged more carries per game in 2014. I don't mean to make Jay Prosch sound like some impossible standard of a blocker, but his ability to know who and where to block really was part of the difference in Marshall's ability to run the read and make those breaking runs on the outside. Many of Marshall's highlights this season came on draw plays. Prosch is not irreplaceable, he's just the standard we have to measure against. Brandon Fulse did a good job of filling the role in 2014 as most of the 2014 stats comparisons show when compared with 2013. However, I can't help but feel like if Prosch had been around for 2014 those numbers would have been bigger because Auburn - and Marshall in particular - would have broken a few more free.
Saying Thank You
I spoke to someone directly involved with the football team shortly after spring practice in 2013. He told me "we'll be lucky to win three games again this year." That assessment was so very wrong. It was wrong because of Nick Marshall.
Nick Marshall arrived on campus and was forced to learn Malzahn's offense via the "drinking from the fire hydrant" method. And learn it he did. He provided us with so many heart-stopping moments. He was one of the most dynamic athletes to ever play at Auburn. He's so crazy athletic that Tuco pondered the possibility of him joining the basketball team.
2013 would not have been possible without Nick Marshall. We would have no Miracle at Jordan-Hare. We probably wouldn't have had the Kick-Six. If you want to watch a video encompassing all of his career highlights at Auburn, this is a decent one (though personally I would turn the sound off). One play missing from that is the first touchdown pass of the 2013 SEC Championship Game to Sammie Coates, which is still one of my favorite Nick Marshall passes.
Auburn will be in great hands at the quarterback position in 2015. However, we're going to miss Nick Marshall. The offense will probably be fantastic in an entirely different way in 2015. For someone raised on option, run-heavy football, though, Marshall's command of Malzahn's offense and the way they ran it with him was masterful. I will really miss seeing it. Thank you, Nick Marshall. Thank you for two awesome years of offense.
We have nothing to worry about. We haven't seen Jeremy Johnson run the football much, but he is capable of doing it. What we do know he's capable of is throwing the football. He has a career completion percentage of 73% on 78 total attempts. He can sling the ball deep. He has remarkable touch and accuracy. Do you want to know what you have to look forward to? Watch this video (mute if you're at work or sensitive to language).
But wait, the QB race isn't decided yet!
Ok, true, it's not official. From all reports in practice, Sean White is putting a lot of pressure on Jeremy Johnson. However, no one expects Sean White to win the job just yet. What we should be very thankful for is that White pushing Johnson so hard means we have a more than capable back-up, still. WarRoomEagle let us know all about the Chizik recipe for disaster from 2012, so having more than one viable option at the QB position is a must.
Auburn will be fine at QB in 2015. We'll miss Nick Marshall because he had crazy athletic ability, but we'll be fine.
This wraps up our reviews of the 2014 position units. A-Day is this weekend. Shortly thereafter we'll begin looking at what we learned from spring practice and looking forward to 2015 in more detail. War Eagle!