Four starts into his college career, TaQuon Marshall already has the look of a star.
In the end, though, games like this will determine how he’s remembered at Georgia Tech.
On the road.
Against No. 11 Miami.
“I’m really excited,” Marshall said after practice Tuesday. “This is really going to be a big test for us.”
If nothing else, Marshall and his teammates should be well rested when they face the Hurricanes. Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) is coming off a bye week and wasn’t able to play at Central Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, meaning the Yellow Jackets have played two fewer games than a lot of teams
“We’re still a little bit of an enigma. You usually know by this time of year, but we’ve only played four games,” coach Paul Johnson said. “It’s hard to tell where we are. But we’ll know a lot more after Saturday, that’s for sure.”
In some ways, that applies to Marshall as much as anyone.
The junior claimed the starting job over Matthew Jordan, who was the top backup to Justin Thomas the last two seasons, and quickly grabbed a place in the Georgia Tech record book by running for 249 yards and five touchdowns in a season-opening, double-overtime loss to Tennessee.
Since then, Marshall had two more 100-yard rushing performances while showing a surprisingly accurate arm, completing nearly 58 percent of his limited attempts with four TDs and no interceptions.
“The moment has not gotten too big for him,” Johnson said. “That’s what you’re worried about, especially in that first game, that he’d get a little bit starry-eyed. For the most part, he’s kept his composure really well.”
But the Yellow Jackets have yet to play anyone close to the stature of Miami (4-0, 2-0), which is coming off a last-second victory at Florida State, and the first road game of the season only heightens the challenge.
Under Johnson, Georgia Tech is just 2-7 against the Hurricanes. That includes four straight losses at Miami — all by margins of at least 15 points.
This is Marshall’s chance to really shine.
“Of course, I don’t expect to come out and make all the plays,” he said. “I mean, the guys around me make the plays for me.”
It’s clear that Marshall has earned the respect of those around him with not only his playing skills, but with his toughness and vocal leadership style. This week, he was one of three players chosen by his peers as a team captain; the other two are seniors.
“That kid’s playing lights out,” receiver Ricky Jeune said. “Everybody believes in him. That’s our guy.”
Jordan was thought to be the favorite for the starting job, based on his experience and a standout performance leading the Yellow Jackets to an upset victory at Virginia Tech last season when Thomas was injured.
But Marshall, who began his college career as a running back, emerged as the favorite during spring practice, showing flashes of the playmaking ability that Johnson wants from his quarterback in the triple option.
Jordan was further hampered by a foot injury that forced him to shut down midway through the spring, allowing Marshall to further solidify himself as the top choice heading into fall workouts. Johnson actually made his decision a couple of weeks before the opener, though he didn’t announce it until the night of the game.
“We’ve been doing this for 32 years. We’ve had a lot of quarterbacks,” Johnson said. “He’s playing well, but we fully expected him to play well.”
Now, can Marshall keep it going against his toughest opponent yet?
“He’s a pretty confident kid,” Johnson said. “He works hard and wants to get better. Hopefully we’ll continue to see that improvement.”
Marshall’s teammates have no doubt that he’s up to the challenge.
“He’s shown a lot of leadership,” A-back Clinton Lynch said. “He’s just led the offense, run it to perfection. He’s done an extraordinary job. I’m really proud of him, because he was an A-back with me in the early years. It’s good to see all the success that he’s having.”