Auburn's Marshall returns to starting lineup with 3 quarters of work even in blowout

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn had several reasons for leaving quarterback Nick Marshall on the field through the third quarter of a blowout victory.

The fifth-ranked Tigers were trying to take full advantage of their final tuneup heading into an open date before visiting No. 19 Kansas State in a Thursday night game. Plus, Marshall had only played the second half of the opener against Arkansas because of a suspension and attempted just six passes.

Reason No. 3: "He's one of the better zone read quarterbacks in college football," Malzahn said. "That's what we do."

Marshall had plenty of success doing that for the Tigers (2-0). He rushed for 103 yards and scored on a 27-yard scamper on the final play of the third quarter Saturday in the 59-13 victory over San Jose State.

Marshall still hasn't demonstrated that his passing has improved substantially. He was just 10 of 19 for 101 yards and a touchdown.

"There were a couple throws that I could have made, but I just have to go out and practice to get better for next week," Marshall said.

Malzahn said the coaches wanted Marshall to get as many snaps as they could before inserting backup Jeremy Johnson. An offense that led the nation in rushing last season has been most productive on the ground with Marshall on the field, despite an offseason emphasis on more balance.

The Tigers ran for 358 yards against San Jose State and gained 302 on the ground in the second half of the opener. Cameron Artis-Payne finished with 112 yards and three touchdowns for his second straight 100-yard effort. Corey Grant has topped 80 rushing yards in both games.

Receiver Sammie Coates missed the game with a knee injury, but is expected back against Kansas State.

Marshall and Auburn didn't need to pass much Saturday night, though potentially his biggest play ended badly. He sprung loose for a 49-yard gain on the opening drive but had the ball knocked out near the goal line for a touchback.

"It was at the last second, when I was about to celebrate, that he punched it out," he said. "Being a quarterback, you have to have a short memory, to put it behind you and play the next play."

Now, the focus can turn to the next game. Marshall and the Tigers still have seven ranked teams remaining on the schedule, four of them in the Top 10.

They're hoping to take advantage of the extra time before facing Bill Snyder's Wildcats, coming off a 32-28 win over Iowa State.

Quarterback Jake Waters scored on an 8-yard run with 1:30 left to avert the upset.

"We are going to work on improving ourselves and try to get a head start," Malzahn said. "We are playing a very good team on the road with one of the better coaches that has ever walked the planet. We will have to have a good plan and have to be prepared."