Nick Marshall looks downfield during Auburn's 2014 A-Day (photo by Wade Rackley)
By Charles Goldberg
-- Sometime after he threw for four touchdowns, sometime after he led his team to seven straight scores, sometime after the first-team offense piled up 657 yards, Nick Marshall declared Auburn's offense will be a handful in 2014.
"We're going to be a scary sight this year," the quarterback said after a smashing A-Day Game performance in front of 70,645 fans in Jordan-Hare Stadium in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The team that led the SEC in rushing last season gave opponents something else to consider for the upcoming season. Auburn, which famously threw only nine times to beat Arkansas last season, saw
Marshall complete 13-of-22 passes for 236 yards in the Blue's 58-3 win over the White as the Tigers wrapped up spring practice.
Auburn opens the 2014 season against those very same Razorbacks.
"Our emphasis was obviously throwing the football," said coach Gus Malzahn. "It was good to see our guys throwing and catching the ball in front of a crowd."
Malzahn said all spring the Tigers were working on the passing game, and proved it at A-Day. The Blue and the White combined for 48 running plays. They threw it 53 times, and by a large percentage early.
The Blue jumped to a big early lead, though it hardly mattered. They didn't stop the clock, not once, in either the 12-minute third or fourth quarters. Marshall, the offensive MVP, didn't even play in the second half. A lot of defensive starters didn't play at all as they nursed injuries.
Does all the passing really mean a change in strategy or a diversion in a game televised by ESPN?
"It's the same thing. We haven't changed anything," Marshall said.
But Marshall barely ran his zone-read run game, at least in a way he'd keep it, because Malzahn was not going to put him in harm's way. The 1,000-yard rusher from last season had one carry for 1 yard.
Corey Grant ran though. He made the most of his five carries, rushing for 128 yards and a touchdown. Running mate Cameron Artis-Payne had 12 carries for 97 yards.
Marshall embraced the versatility.
"We can get real scary," he said. "We know we can run the ball. We're just focusing on throwing the ball down the field. That's the emphasis this year. "
Instead of running, he found the likes of junior college transfer D'haquille Williams, who had a game-high five catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.
"When I get flushed of the pocket, he just knows how to get into my sight," Marshall said. "He can get on the ball. He's an awesome kid to have on your team.
"He's one of the receivers that if you put it anywhere in sight he'll come down with it."
Williams led in catches, but Quan Bray and Tony Stevens led in TD catches, with two each.
Malzahn summed up A-Day, and spring practice with a "I really like the way we ended."
The A-Day Game featured the first-team offense and defense against the second-teamers.
"We tried to play ones vs. twos as we did last year," Malzahn said. "We're better this year with our ones. I don't read anything into the score.
"Our first defense didn't give up very many plays, period."
The scariest moment came when running back Peyton Barber went down with some sort of leg or knee injury. But Malzahn said he'd be OK.
Malzahn also said backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson "has had an excellent spring. We're very happy with where he's at."
The defensive MVP was linebacker Kenny Flowers. He had seven tackles, including 2½ for a loss, including a sack. Daniel Carlson, who hit a 50-yard field goal, was named the special teams MVP.
And then, it was time to think of summer workouts and beyond.
"We've got a veteran group that have a very good understanding offensively and defensively," Malzahn said. "They should be able to help that young group come in."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: