ATLANTA — TaQuon Marshall believes he belongs on the big stage after a mostly dazzling debut as Georgia Tech's starting quarterback.
The Yellow Jackets lost their opener on Monday, falling in two overtimes to No. 25 Tennessee. It was a marquee event, the second college game played at the Atlanta Falcons' new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but Georgia Tech came up short when Marshall couldn't convert a 2-point try on the final play.
Now Marshall gets to perform in a looser atmosphere when the Jackets host FCS Jacksonville State (1-0) on Saturday. He doesn't expect to feel so jittery this time.
"My nerves were very high," he said this week. "I was trying to control them the whole time. I was really nervous. I was like, 'Just get the snap, run the play,' but after a while it just started to calm down."
Marshall set an Atlantic Coast Conference record by a quarterback, rushing for 249 yards, and added two school marks with five rushing touchdowns and 44 carries. He oversaw an offense that ran 96 plays, rushing for 535 yards and finishing with 655 overall.
Nice numbers, but not enough to win.
Marshall knows he needs to make better decisions after the snap.
"I think I overthrew a couple of balls that could've made a difference in the game," he said. "Holding onto the ball, too, because I turned the ball over, and that really stumped us."
Some other things to watch when the Jackets try to improve to 3-0 in the series with Jacksonville State:
HECK OF A RUN: Jacksonville State won its opener over Chattanooga as John Grass improved to 34-6 record in his fourth season as head coach. He is 23-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference, the best conference start by a coach in FCS history. The Gamecocks, who ranked No. 5 in this week's coaches' poll, have a 32-game winning streak in the regular season against FCS opponents. Their only losses during that stretch are against Michigan State, Auburn and LSU.
IT'S YOUR JOB NOW: Marshall beat out fellow junior Matthew Jordan for the starting job three weeks ago. Jackets coach Paul Johnson, who waited until the Tennessee game to make his decision public, says Marshall had an impressive spring camp and was sharp with the first-team offense after Jordan hurt his foot and couldn't practice.
Johnson isn't ruling out a chance that Jordan could still earn his way to more snaps, though Marshall would have to play his way out of the job.
"Let's get a bigger sample size before we go nuts, but certainly you would have to be encouraged watching him play," Johnson said. "He's got a good understanding. I think he's got good leadership skills. That's why we picked him to be our starter. Hopefully he'll continue to play well and wasn't a flash in the pan."
KEEP IT BALANCED: Like Georgia Tech, which has a perennial top five rushing attack under Johnson, Jacksonville loves to run the ball, but the Gamecocks have a more balanced attack. Grass knows the Jackets are going to run nearly every play in Johnson's spread option formations.
"It's not a secret on what they do and how they do it," Grass said. "It is more like here is what we do, here we come and now you have to stop it. You have to line up and be ready to play."
NOT OVER YET: Johnson teased reporters this week, saying "I don't like kickers" when asked if he plans to make a change. Sophomore Shawn Davis won the job in camp but missed a pair of field goals, including one that was blocked at the end of regulation. Freshman Brenton King will get some chances against Jacksonville State.
"One game does not make a season," Johnson said. "I'm not going to write the kid off. I'm going to give him a chance and see what he can do again."