Sept. 15, 2013
Run-pass game: Receiver Quan Bray heads down field as tailback Tre Mason trails the play (Anthony Hall photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Marcus Davis is a freshman, but he isn't playing like one.
That's why Auburn made him a principal receiver when it was driving for the game-winning touchdown that beat Mississippi State 24-20 with 10 seconds to spare Saturday in a drive that turned out to be a confidence-building exercise for the entire offense.
"He responded like the whole offense did. 'Hey, it's just another drive. The moment is not too big for us,'" said offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee on Sunday.
Davis had four catches down the stretch, quarterback Nick Marshall directed the 88-yard drive and C.J. Uzomah made the game-winning catch.
The offense that used the running game to beat Washington State and Arkansas State used Marshall's 339 yards passing to win Saturday. That dual threat will give LSU something to think about as it prepares to play host to Auburn in Saturday's 6:45 p.m. game on ESPN.
Such run-pass diversity is part of the evolution of the offense, three games in Gus Malzahn's run as Auburn's head coach.
"We've been working hard and getting more continunity each week with the passing game," Lashlee said. "We know we're going to have to throw the ball to win football games in our league. We're going to have to be balanced."
Auburn started fast against Mississippi State, but was derailed for the second and third quarters. It found enough at the end.
"The bottom line is we found a way to win. We did it pretty dramatically — you'd like not to have to do that," Lashlee said. "We left some points out there well before then. But I think our team can grow and gain a lot of confidence from the way we were able to accomplish that victory."
Lashlee figured Mississippi State would defend the run after Auburn's success winning the first two games, so the Tigers came out passing. Marshall hit 9-of-11 passes in the first quarter, throwing for a career-high 151 yards. Things didn't go so well for an extended stretch after that.
"We started well and then, something with that second quarter right now, is a little bit of a lull," Lashlee said. "In the third quarter it was choppy here and there."
Until Auburn got the ball one last time in the fourth.
"When we made Nick the starter, the thing he had done really well was the two-minute drive. I was really proud of him and the whole offense the way they performed in that drive," Lashlee said.
"We said when we named him the starter that he and our team would be on the same parallel and that they would get better each week. We knew we weren’t ready at that moment, but we felt like we would keep improving. I feel like he’s still got plenty of things we need to improve on as does our whole offense, but I feel like he’s getting better each week."
Auburn ran for 120 yards, short of what Malzahn was looking for, and prompting Lashlee to say "I was real frustrated." He called the offense average.
"Right now, the difference between being average and being good is not very much," he said.
Video: Rhett Lashlee looks at his offense:
Charles Goldberg writes for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine