The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 1, 2013

Malzahn praises Auburn's poise in debut


Associated Press

— AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn coach Gus Malzahn wanted to see how his team handled tough times, and to shield new quarterback Nick Marshall from them as much as possible.

The result was an opening 31-24 victory over Washington State that showcased the running game, kept the pressure largely off Marshall and gave Malzahn a chance to measure his Tigers' mettle.

"My big deal was adversity and my head was on a swivel," he said. "I wanted to see how we handled it. That was my big question, but I didn't see heads down and all that pouting. I saw some bright eyes, I saw our guys hustling on and off the field no matter what the score was and I'm proud of our guys for that."

Resiliency and confidence were big issues in a matchup of two teams coming off psyche-bruising 3-9 seasons. The Tigers (1-0) trailed three times in the game. They answered right back on Tre Mason's 100-yard kick return the second time and Corey Grant's 75-yard run the third and then made two defensive stops late in the game.

Auburn's mistakes made less of an impression on Malzahn than his team's handling of them.

Marshall didn't come up with many big plays, but also didn't commit any turnovers.

It was the first time Auburn had an opener with both a new quarterback and head coach since 1969. Marshall, the seventh new opening-day starter in as many years, had only preseason camp to learn Malzahn's offense after transferring from junior college.

He bobbled a low snap on his first play and was tackled for a loss, and then his first four passes were incompletions. Marshall finished 10-of-19 passing for 99 yards and ran nine times for 27 yards, while overshooting several deep balls.

The Tigers rushed for 297 yards on 45 carries, divvying up the carries among Mason, Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne.

Malzahn did like Marshall's poise after the early jitters and his calm demeanor in the locker room at halftime despite having completed only 2 of 8 passes.

"There were a couple things communication-wise we'll get better on but overall I liked the way he handled himself," the coach said. "He protected the football and that's hard to do. They were showing him a lot of different looks and trying to disguise some things but he protected the football."

Washington State coach Mike Leach figures one game isn't enough to gauge how Marshall will do.

"I am just kind of curious about him after he gets more games under his belt," Leach said.

Marshall was just one of five first-time starters for the Tigers. Defensive linemen Dee Ford and Jeff Whitaker and defensive back Justin Garrett missed the game with injuries.

Malzahn indicated Whitaker could be out awhile and said he underwent a surgical procedure last week for an unspecified injury. He was using crutches on a visit to the field before the game.

Ford's absence left the Tigers struggling early to mount a pass rush. JUCO transfer Ben Bradley and freshman Montravius Adams had the team's two sacks.

Adams was one of Auburn's top recruits and part of a defensive line group that was the biggest highlight of the signing class.

"It felt great," Adams said. "It was my first play of the game, and I didn't want to let the team down. At the snap of the ball, my only focus was to push down the quarterback, and I did."