Malzahn: We’re going to have to throw the football before it’s all said and done

Has the time come for Nick Marshall to have to throw the football?

That’s what the entire SEC will be watching Saturday when Georgia comes rolling into Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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Auburn has one of the country’s top running games that averages 320 smash-mouth yards per game and features Marshall and RB Tre Mason. The Tigers have rushed for over 420 yards per game in two of their last three games.

Auburn ran right through Arkansas and Tennessee en route to a 9-1 start and the biggest turnaround in college football, and Marshall attempted15 total passes combined.

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But Georgia comes calling Saturday, and after a date with the Bulldogs, it’s Alabama in the Iron Bowl. The biggest question everyone has isn’t whether Auburn is a legit contender for the SEC Championship; it’s whether Nick Marshall can throw the ball down the field and complete passes when he has to. Gus Malzahn knows his QB will have to make some big throws, as evidenced by what he said during the SEC’s teleconference.

“We’re going to need to throw the football before it’s all said and done. We know that. We work extremely hard at practice. All but the one week when Nick hurt his shoulder, he wasn’t able to throw that week, we were a little more cautious there. But he’s getting a lot healthier. I really believe when the time comes, he can be effective throwing the football.”

Marshall has been battling a shoulder injury since the FAU game, and games against Arkansas and Tennessee have benefited Marshall during his recovery because of the lack of passing attempts.

Several have knocked Auburn and labeled them one-dimensional, but it’s been rather impressive to watch Malzahn adapt the scheme to the skill set of the players. He’s taken what the Tigers do best, and he’s built around it. He’s built around the strengths of his quarterback, and by doing so, he’s the favorite to be the SEC’s Coach of the Year.

But Georgia’s defense is going to test the running game. In fact, the Bulldogs’ run defense is the best Auburn has faced yet.

Related: Compare Georgia’s run defense to the rest of the SEC

Georgia is fourth in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing opponents just 126 yards per game, but it’s the secondary that has really struggled and looked confused throughout the season. Will Auburn be able to exploit the Bulldogs’ secondary? When Georgia forces Marshall and Auburn’s hand, can he make big plays down the field?

If Georgia doesn’t force Auburn to have more than 12 passing attempts, it could be trouble. That means the running game is rolling, and Auburn won’t have to throw it. Marshall threw 33 times in the loss to LSU, including two INTs.

We’ll learn a lot Saturday about Auburn and Georgia.

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