Five touchdowns and 249 rushing yards are stunning numbers for any quarterback, especially for a quarterback who wasn’t announced as the starter until minutes before the opening game.
TaQuon Marshall knew he would start Monday during the final week of preseason practice when head coach Paul Johnson approached him and told him to get ready. Marshall had outperformed the other three contenders and earned the right to be in the starting lineup.
“I was very excited when he told me the guys were behind me,” Marshall said. “The guys support me. They’ve got my back, and I’ve got their back. It’s exciting to lead the team, and I’m looking forward to doing great things this season.”
It didn’t take long to see why.
The sophomore from Harris County was confident and comfortable in the spotlight. That was apparent right from the start.
“You could see by the way he played, he’s obviously got a lot of confidence,” A-back Nathan Cottrell said. “He did great. Since his freshman year, we knew he could play. Now he’s got his shot at quarterback. It’s no surprise to me at all the way he’s playing.”
He rushed a program-record 44 times for 249 yards — most ever by a quarterback — and scored on runs of 1, 1, 6, 1 and 13 yards. He also completed 5-of-9 passes for 120 yards, including a 44-yarder to Ricky Jeune and a 42-yard post to Qua Searcy.
“He played his tail off,” Johnson said. “I thought he played tremendously, and I knew he was going to be the starter for about 2 1/2 or three weeks. He gives us a guy — he can actually throw the ball well, too. We didn’t throw it a lot, but I thought he played well.”
Marshall surpassed the quarterback rushing record of 199 yards set by Eddie Prokop against Tulsa in the 1944 Sugar Bowl. The five rushing touchdowns broke a record shared by five players, most recently by Tevin Washington against Middle Tennessee in 2012.
The 249 yards were the third-most in program history, behind only 356 by Eddie Lee Ivery in 1978 and P.J. Daniels in 2004, and they were the most by an ACC quarterback, topping the 226 of Louisville’s Lamar Jackson in 2015. The 44 rushing attempts broke the record of 39 shared by Robert Lavette and Jerry Mays.
Marshall didn’t expect to call his own number so often, but Johnson said the Tennessee defense dictated the number of carries for the rookie.
“(Tennessee) just ran the Mike linebacker the whole game,” Johnson said. “They just lined him up 7 yards deep and ran, so they were playing with virtually four guys inside, and we were just following the B-back with a quarterback and run it in there. It was what it was. If they play that way, the quarterback is going to carry the ball some.”
Marshall didn’t seem to slow down at all. He had to leave the game for a couple of plays in the third quarter, but re-entered immediately. He was still around at the end of the game and had a chance to win the game with a two-point conversion run in the second overtime. That play was blown up by some missed blocking assignments, which forced Marshall to improvise and come up short.
“If we do it right, even if we don’t block the guys, then he could have pitched the ball, and the guy would have been a race to … we just didn’t do it right,” Johnson said.