The mantle of leadership is not often light, a lesson Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall has learned over the course of his two seasons as the Yellow Jackets starting quarterback and team captain.
However, late Saturday evening, Marshall felt unburdened. After the Jackets came up short of bowl eligibility last season at 5-6 and then started out this season 1-3, Marshall felt it. But now he could call himself the leader of a team that will play in the postseason after Tech beat Miami 27-21 to improve to 6-4.
“I think when you play quarterback at a big school like this, there’s a lot of pressure on you,” said Marshall, his tone more explanatory than complaining. “Even you try to block it all out, you can only block out so much. I think there was a little bit more pressure on me, and just being able to get to six (wins) after starting off 1-3 and struggling, being beat up all season, it’s a great feeling.”
Leave no doubt, Marshall agreed to all of that pressure when he signed his letter of intent to play for the Jackets and coach Paul Johnson coming out of Harris County High. But it doesn’t mean that it can’t be a load for a 22-year-old trying to balance school and his duties as a quarterback and captain, competing for playing time with an up-and-comer (and good friend), trying to maintain his health and dealing with the expectations and criticisms of the team’s fan base.
When Marshall spoke with reporters earlier in the week, he expressed his frustration with not playing against Virginia Tech (as Tobias Oliver earned the start due to Marshall being limited in practice leading up to the game as he recovered from an upper-body injury) and then being taken out of the game against North Carolina last week after three possessions and not getting back in. Marshall understood Johnson’s rationale, but said “it’s frustrating because I’m a competitor, so I want to be doing something at all times. But sometimes you have to be a competitor from a different perspective.”
Marshall, who is good friends with Oliver, has been supportive of him and encouraging even as he made a bid for playing time at the expense of Marshall’s. Thus, Marshall found such enjoyment Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium. In the last time he would ever play the Hurricanes, he led the Jackets to a win that broke Miami’s three-game winning streak in the series as well as an 8 of 9 run.
Marshall contributed a game-high 92 rushing yards and two touchdown runs, as well as 3-for-4 passing for 73 yards and a clutch 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brad Stewart. And he played nearly the entire game, closing it out by running down the final 6:53 with three third-down conversions to keep the ball away from the Hurricanes.
On top of beating Miami, it was Marshall’s final night game at Bobby Dodd Stadium and his final whiteout, two events that he has appreciated in his four seasons.
“Last white out game for me as a senior, so just that in general was super special, and just to go out and be able to seal the deal at the end, to get a win for the younger guys that were on the team last year that haven’t experienced a bowl,” he said. “And just to be able to go experience a bowl and actually be playing in one myself, it’s very special.”
After the game, such was his joy that, while feeling unburdened, he picked up another one. On the field, he put the 185-pound Oliver on his back and gave him a ride.
“It was great (to play the whole game),” Marshall said. “I think of the past couple weeks, coach Johnson was doing a good job looking out for me. I think Tobias did a great job stepping in and making plays and even when he got in (Saturday), I think he did a good job of staying cool and collected and made plays when he was in there. It felt good to be back out there.”
There are two games remaining in the regular season (Virginia at home for senior day this Saturday and then Georgia in Athens on Nov. 24) and, now a bowl game. His role in those games remains to be seen.
“I knocked a little bit of the rust off, just being a little bit beat up,” he said. “But I think there’s a lot to look forward in the next two weeks.”
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