QB Nick Marshall turned in the drive of the season when he marched the Tigers to a final-possession touchdown in a win over Mississippi State. Though Marshall doesn’t have the best accuracy, he makes up for his passing deficiencies with a strong arm and good running skills. Marshall’s best running game came last time out when he rushed for 140 yards and 2 TDs. Marshall struggled in games against Washington State and LSU – his first game and first road game, respectively.
Rest of offense: A-
The three-headed running game of RBs Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant propelled the Tigers to the No. 1 rushing team in the SEC. A physical offensive line allows Auburn to average 287 rushing yards per game. Mason continues to emerge as one of the top tailbacks in the league. WR Sammie Coates emerged as the team’s greatest deep-ball threat, but the receivers have struggled all season with drops.
Auburn ranks eighth in the conference in rushing defense, 11th in passing defense, 10th in total defense and… third in scoring defense? How? Ellis Johnson’s defense has perfected the whole bend-but-don’t-break idea in every game except LSU. Of course, bigger challenges lie ahead in offenses like Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama. The defensive line, led by DT Gabe Wright, is improving. The linebackers, specifically Jake Holland, still leave plenty to be desired.
It took five games for first-year coach Gus Malzahn to surpass last year’s win total. Of course, that’s not saying much for a team that went 3-9 in league play a season ago. Auburn’s offensive resurgence is a testament to Malzahn’s system. The amazing defensive turnaround again showcases the genius of coordinator Ellis Johnson. Still, there’s no question the toughest games lie ahead.
Offensive Spotlight: RB Corey Grant
Mason gets the bulk of the carries. Artis-Payne pounds the ball between the tackles. But Grant is the home-run hitter that gives the Tigers a chance to score from any spot on the field. Grant and his gaudy 10.0-yards-per-carry average forces defenses to gameplan for him every snap he takes.
Defensive Spotlight: DE Dee Ford
Auburn’s defense – and, more to the point, its pass rush – appears completely different with a still-healing Ford in the lineup than it did without. Ford registered 4.5 TFLs and 3 sacks in his first four games while still coming back from a knee injury that left him sidelined for the first two games of the season.
Coach Gus Malzahn confirmed that QB Nick Marshall will likely start this weekend at Texas A&M. Marshall missed last week’s contest against Western Carolina. True freshman Jeremy Johnson making the start for his first appearance of the season led to speculation that perhaps Marshall was more injured than first thought. Now it appears Marshall’s knee injury has healed enough to allow his return for an SEC West showdown with the Aggies.