Just how good is Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall?
For one minute and 46 seconds on Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium, he was one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC.
Marshall led the Tigers on epic 12-play, 88-yard game-winning drive in 1:46, hitting tight end C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds left to give the Tigers a 24-20 win over Mississippi State. The win snaps a 10-game SEC losing streak for the Tigers, and moves them to 3-0 on the season—Gus Malzahn's first as head coach.
Malzahn has Marshall to thank.
In just his third start at the helm, Marshall showed the poise of a seasoned veteran, completing 6-of-8 passes for 66 yards on the final drive, also picking up 11 yards on the ground on a crucial 3rd and 10 on the Bulldog 25.
He was in control on the epic game-winning drive, and knew what to do with the ball on every play and in every situation.
"You know he didn't put the ball in jeopardy at the end, especially when we got in field goal range and we had a chance to at least tie the game he protected the football, he managed the clock well," Malzahn said in quotes released by the university. "I thought our receivers did a good job and the double move down there at the end it was something that they worked on a lot and it was a big throw and big catch."
Marshall completed 23-of-34 for 339 yards, two touchdowns and two picks—one of which was on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. One of those completions was a 37-yard completion to himself. It's the third straight game that the Pineview, Ga. native, who spent his freshman season playing defensive back at Georgia, has progressed as a pocket passer.
In just three games, he has learned to put more touch on his passes and is much more comfortable with the offense than he was when Auburn beat Washington State in the opener.
"You know we're learning him as he goes," Malzahn said according to his postgame quotes. "He's a calm guy, he doesn't get to high or too low."
So what does this mean moving forward?
Auburn plays LSU in Death Valley next Saturday night, which is a much different animal than hosting Mississippi State. But Malzahn has to be happy with how much his quarterback has progressed since the end of fall camp.
Is he Cam Newton? No. But on this team, he doesn't have to be.
With Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant at running back, more times than not, all Marshall has to be is a caretaker and keep Auburn in the ballgame.
But those running backs let him down on Saturday, as the talented Mississippi State front four kept Auburn's ground game stuck in neutral for the majority of the night. Grant had 44 yards, Mason had 34 and Artis-Payne had 12.
The game was Marshall's to win or lose, and he won it.
That gives Auburn options, and the combination of Malzahn and options is a terrifying thought for opposing defensive coordinators.