Nick Marshall used the same word over and over in describing Auburn’s 59-42 demolition of Missouri in the SEC Championship game Saturday at the Georgia Dome: relentless.
“It feels great; it’s been our goal all year to get to the Georgia Dome and play for the SEC championship,” Mason. “We’ve played relentless football all year.”
Marshall viciously ran coach Gus Malzahn’s offense as well as he has all season, leading Auburn to a record-breaking 677 yards in steamrolling what was thought to be a stout Missouri defense. Auburn set SEC Championship game records for points, yards, rushing yards (545), rushing touchdowns (seven) and attempts (74), among other marks.
Marshall finished with 101 rushing yards and a touchdown on 16 carries and has 1,023 for the season to become the fourth quarterback in SEC history, and third in Auburn history, to surpass that plateau. He passed for 132 more yards and another touchdown, completing nine of his 11 attempts.
The only issue Marshall had was fumbles: He lost three in the first half, two of which were turned into 10 points by Missouri.
Though only a junior, it’s been quite a journey for Marshall. After a record-setting career at Wilcox County High School, Marshall enrolled at Georgia and moved to defensive back. He was dismissed by coach Mark Richt for violating team rules in February 2012.
He enrolled at Garden City Community College in Kansas. It was while there that Malzahn convinced him to sign with the Tigers, a team that had lost eight consecutive SEC games under coach Gene Chizik.
Little did either know what was to come.
“I put my trust in coach Malzahn,” he said. “He said we were going to have the biggest turnaround in college football.”
Marshall enrolled at Auburn in the summer and earned the starter’s job, but said he didn’t really feel comfortable with the playbook until after the 35-21 loss to LSU on Sept 21.
After that game, Marshall and the Tigers averaged 45.3 points per game in winning nine consecutive games, including the famous last-minute victories over Georgia and Alabama and Saturday’s power display against Missouri.
Marshall read Missouri’s defensive line like a textbook, knowing when to hand the ball to Tre Mason or another running back and when to keep it.
“They (Marshall and Mason) have something special, there’s no doubt,” Malzahn said. “It’s hard to explain, and they work extremely well together. It’s a thing of beauty to watch.”
Marshall seemingly did everything correct with perhaps no play bigger than his pass to Trovon Reed in the fourth quarter.
Auburn was leading 45-42 and couldn’t shake Missouri, which was on the verge of making Auburn attempt a 47-yard field goal. Even if they gave up three more points, Missouri would still have a chance to get the ball back and take lead with a touchdown.
Facing third-and-10 at the 30, Marshall faked a handoff. Most of Missouri’s linebackers and safeties rushed forward. Marshall stood up straight and hit Reed running down the seam for 23 yards and a first down at the 7-yard line.
Five plays later, Mason scored from 1 yard out on fourth down to finally give Auburn a comfortable 10-point cushion with 11:09 left.
“It’s a great scheme,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “More people are going to use it probably. Gus does a great job with it and has a great quarterback. He has a lot of good people that can damage you.”