By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Gus Malzahn was the mastermind behind Gene Chizik’s Auburn offense from 2009-11, which included a 2010 national championship with Cam Newton at quarterback.
After a year at Arkansas State, Malzahn is back on the plains as head coach and has the Tigers off to a 2-0 start.
“We’re still building this thing at Auburn and we’re a work in progress,” Malzahn said.
“But I like the direction we’re going. As a team, we talk about getting better each practice and each game. I feel like we’re on the road to doing that and definitely feel like we’ve improved from Week 1 to Week 2.”
Auburn secured a 31-24 victory over Washington State to start the season and soundly defeated Arkansas State last week 38-9. Malzahn has won 10 straight games dating back to last season.
So far, Malzahn’s offense has been centered around its run game. The Tigers are averaging 298 yards a game on the ground with juniors Tre Mason, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne combining for 512 yards and five touchdowns.
Malzahn compared his backfield to his 2006 group at Arkansas consisting of future NFL stars Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis.
Junior quarterback Nick Marshall has completed 55.6-percent of his passes for 246 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Marshall has not been sacked this season.
“The offense that we’re going up against is one of the best in the country,” said MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. “Coach Malzahn and (Rhett) Lashlee do a great job calling plays and scheming it up. They’ve got a talented group of running backs, a big offensive line with four returning starters and their quarterback is a dynamic player. Their fullback is big, physical and tough and some of their tight ends look like wide receivers running around out there. They’ve got a lot of weapons and a lot of talent so it’s going to be a big challenge.”
Marshall began his college career at Georgia, playing 13 games at cornerback for the Bulldogs in 2011. He transferred to Garden City Community College last fall where he accounted for 4,237 yards of offense and 37 touchdowns.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder missed spring practice but was named Auburn’s starting quarterback this fall.
“He has talent and hits open receivers and creates big gains in the passing game,” said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. “Even in the first two games you’ve seen him get more and more comfortable in that drop back passing game. That obviously makes him very lethal in the play action game because you have to account for him in the run game.”