Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is keeping the quarterback race for the Tigers as much of a secret as Coke does with its soft drink recipe. It’s currently a four-man race with Kiehl Frazier, Jonathan Wallace, Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson, but after Saturday’s scrimmage the race could be down to two or three candidates.
“Our goal after this scrimmage was to narrow things down at all positions but specifically the quarterback position,” Malzahn tells James Crepea of USA TODAY Sports. “Hopefully, after we watch film, we’ll have a chance to do that somewhat.”
I believe the leading candidate to start the season opener is Marshall who tossed a long touchdown to junior tight end Brandon Fulse in Saturday’s scrimmage. With the season rapidly drawing near it’s difficult to get one quarterback game-ready while splitting reps with three other quarterbacks and I expect some clarity from Malzahn soon.
Marshall may come as somewhat of a surprise to those on the Plains because he was not on campus for spring practice. The junior college transfer from Garden City C.C. in Kansas accounted for 37 total touchdowns last season with 19 coming on the ground and more than 4,000 yards of offense with more than 1,000 on the ground. His rare athleticism may serve as the tie-breaker in a race you’d think would be decided by his arm.
“That’s a positive,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee tells Brandon Marcello. “Any time you’ve got a quarterback who can escape, keep a play alive or make something happen when it breaks down, that helps us as we’re installing, too — understand that the style of play that we’re going to be playing will be consistent no matter who ends up being the guy.”
Marshall has been compared to Cam Newton because of his dual-threat ability behind center and his path to Auburn that included a stop at junior college after starting his career at another SEC program. Marshall originally enrolled at Georgia as a four-star cornerback recruit, but was dismissed from the team in February 2012 for violating team rules. Newton had to leave Florida before excelling at Blinn Junior College in Kansas and I don’t need to remind you about his historic season at Auburn.
Such expectations to a Heisman winner and national champion may be a bit premature and evoke hyperbole considering his rawness at the position. He did throw 20 interceptions and fumbled eight times last season, losing five of them, but his speed and play-making ability is unparalleled at Auburn.
“I didn’t know really what to expect [of Marshall],” Malzahn tells Marcello. “He didn’t get to go through spring. All I knew was he was a very good athlete in junior college. … I think each day he would tell you he’s getting more and more comfortable.”
Newton is not the only junior college quarterback to have success under Malzahn at Auburn as Chris Todd accumulated a 145.6 passer rating after he tossed 22 touchdowns to only six interceptions while completing 60.4 percent of his passes for 2,612 yards.
Frazier may be a broken man after a miserable 2012 season, Wallace has shown some promise in a limited role and Johnson has as much potential as any of the others, but it’s Marshall who gives Auburn the best chance to win in 2013.
It is time for Auburn to end the shroud of mystery and move forward with Marshall as the face of the program.