It doesn’t involved new starting quarterback Nick Marshall channeling Cam Newton early.
It doesn’t involve Marshall channeling Dameyune Craig early.
Based on Marshall’s first game on the job, it doesn’t even involve Marshall playing the leading role early this season. Clearly, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn wanted to let Marshall put the ball in the hands of running backs Tre Mason, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne.
And Malzahn didn’t want Marshall putting the ball in the opponents’ hands.
The plan didn’t involve Marshall coming out of Auburn’s 31-24 victory over Washington State with big numbers in his first start as a FBS quarterback. His 126 total yards and no touchdowns Saturday brought any lingering next-Cam thinkers back to turf level.
But the idea is to build Marshall up from turf level, and it’s the right plan.
Turf level for Marshall at Auburn involves eliminating negatives, and Marshall’s first outing had no obvious negatives.
The guy who threw 20 interceptions in junior college last season threw none in his FBS opener.
An improviser who likes to scramble and heave, Marshall overthrew receivers but had not one negative run.
Of Auburn’s 46 rushes, Marshall had just nine for 27 of the Tigers’ 295 rushing yards.
That didn’t happen by accident. It wasn’t that Washington State played came dedicated to stopping Marshall, forcing him to read handoff more than keep. If anything, the Cougars dared the newby with a history of interceptions to make plays.
Malzahn clearly had other ideas, and the plan makes sense for a quarterback who didn’t make it to Auburn until after spring practice.
The plan is to tear down the junior-college Nick Marshall and build the Auburn Nick Marshall, starting with a minimal-turnover, use-you-guys foundation. Once Marshall gets comfortable the offense and play makers around him, he can begin adding his play-making skills.
That started happening in the second half of the Washington State game. After halftime, he hit on 8 of 11 passes en route to finishing 10-for-19.
That’s not to say that the full Nick Marshall will show up Saturday, against Arkansas State. Or even the next Saturday, against Mississippi State.
It’s hard to say when he goes from the plan to the man. It took Malzahn and Cam Newton five games together to get there, and Newton went through spring practice at Auburn in 2010.
It might also be that the trio of Mason, Grant and Artis-Payne winds up being the story for Auburn this season. Mason’s 100-yard kickoff return and Grant’s 75-yard touchdown run showed they can be home-run playmakers.
The best thing Marshall did Saturday was use those guys, not turn the ball over and win.
He wasn’t a negative, which appears to be all that Malzahn wanted for game one of the Marshall Plan. If Marshall does no worse the rest of the season, then Auburn will have upgraded at the quarterback position.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jmedley_star.