How Auburn's 2013 opener vs. Wazzu set the tone for an unbelievable season
Ten years ago today, Auburn football started a new era — and showed early signs of what would turn these Tigers into champions.
HC Gus Malzahn and QB Nick Marshall (Auburn Athletics)
Welcome to the 13 For ‘13 Series here at The Auburn Observer.
For the next 13 Thursday mornings, our newsletters will dive deep into Auburn football’s dream 2013 season — an unprecedented run from 3-9 the year before to an SEC title and the national championship game, complete with some of the most famous moments in program history.
We’ll start with the Tigers’ season opener against Washington State, which so happened to be played exactly a decade ago today: August 31, 2013.
According to the official box score, the temperature at kickoff at 6:02 p.m. was only 84 degrees. But the words “hot and muggy,” listed a few lines later, feel more appropriate than the raw number.
There have been plenty of abnormally hot early-season games in the history of Jordan-Hare Stadium. For a night game, though, the 2013 opener just felt different.
That was fitting, and it wasn’t just because visiting Washington State fans had to stay cool — and maintain their reputation — by drinking former Auburn bar Quixote’s completely out of beer that night.
Auburn was coming off of the worst season in modern program history. The 2012 Tigers went 3-9, lost every SEC contest and looked completely lifeless for most of the final month of the season.
Less than three years after winning a national title, Gene Chizik was fired, and Auburn replaced him with the man who coordinated the Cam Newton-led offense from that 2010 championship season: Gus Malzahn.
In his introductory press conference — using a line that would be repeated in the team’s official hype video — Malzahn stated that his goal was to “play championship football, like Auburn expects.”
No one in Jordan-Hare Stadium that night knew just how close the Tigers were to doing that.
Auburn defeated Washington State, 31-24, in a battle between two programs that were trying to shake off 3-9 seasons. The late Mike Leach, then in his second season at Washington State, got the Cougars back to a bowl game in 2013. The Tigers would go on a 12-2 run that would take them to Atlanta and Pasadena.
Although Auburn didn’t look the part of a championship-winning team on that brutally hot night on the Plains, there were early signs of what would make the Tigers go from worst-to-first in Malzahn’s first season as the head coach.
"Our fans deserve to win and we have a chance to get better," Malzahn said after the win. "I mean, we're not there. I think everybody knows that. But we have a chance to get better, and I'm really enjoying coaching these guys."
Here’s a look back at an unpredictable and underrated season opener — and what it meant for the future of a storybook season.
Auburn had a quarterback, but it needed to learn more about him
Malzahn decided to go with a complete newcomer to be his quarterback in 2013, naming Nick Marshall the starter during the middle of fall camp.
Marshall was the wild card of all wild cards. The former high school star quarterback started his career as a 4-star cornerback signee at Georgia. He was kicked off the team with two other freshmen in February 2012 for an incident that involved the theft of money from a dorm room. Marshall went to Garden City Community College in Kansas, where he concentrated on playing offense again.
During his lone season at Garden City, Marshall had more than 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards to go along with 37 touchdowns… along with 20 interceptions. He had massive arm strength, once unleashing a pass in the JUCO national title game that went from 15-yard line to 15-yard line in the air.
Marshall’s rocket launcher of a right arm was showcased early in his Auburn debut. However, he overthrew his first few passes for incompletions, and he came to the sideline after the first drive tapping his chest, owning the failed possession.
Marshall would finish his Auburn debut completing 10 of his 19 passes for just 99 yards. He only had nine carries for 27 yards — a far cry for a quarterback who would eventually hit triple digits in four different SEC games on the ground, including the conference title game.
His performance left a lot to be desired, and ESPNU color commentator Matt Stinchcomb would close the game’s broadcast by saying Marshall “had a lot of work to do.”
But the most pointed criticism would come from the opposing quarterback, Washington State’s Connor Halliday:
“If they could find a quarterback, they’d be a top-five team in the nation,” Halliday said after the game. “They just don’t have a guy who can throw it.”
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