Firsts haven’t been too kind to Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.
In his first game of the season against Washington State, the junior college transfer fumbled his first snap and then missed on his first four pass attempts. Marshall finished the first half completing just 2-of-8 passes for 20 yards in the Tigers’ 31-24 season-opening victory.
Marshall struggled again in his first road start at then-No. 6 LSU, completing just 6-of-16 passes for 31 yards with an interception and a fumble to his credit as LSU built a 21-0 lead by halftime. In the first halves of his two biggest firsts this season, Marshall was a combined 8-of-24 for 51 yards with an interception and two fumbles.
But since that LSU game, Auburn has rolled off six straight wins entering Saturday’s showdown with No. 25 Georgia, where Marshall signed out of high school and played for a season as a defensive back.
Despite his quarterback’s issues with new experiences, Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn believes those struggles won’t be an issue as Marshall faces his former team for the first time since being dismissed in Feb. 2011.
“He's a real honest, upfront young man. I think a lot of his nerves was just the first (game) and not knowing what to expect, didn't know his teammates very well, didn't know his coaches and how we were going to react and all that,” Malzahn said Wednesday evening. “I think he's in a comfort zone. Like I've said before, he doesn't get too high or too low. He's very even keel and once the game gets going there's no doubt in my mind he'll be ready.”
No. 7 Auburn (9-1, 5-1 SEC) hosts Georgia at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the 117th edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.
Since the LSU loss, though, Marshall has been superb within Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense, excelling in the zone-read option with 586 rushing yards and seven touchdowns to go along with 492 yards and four scores on 33-of-56 passing.
“Nick's just as dangerous as a runner (as former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton) because of his speed and agility and those types of things. He can be just as effective as a runner,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “We know he's a very capable passer, and the times he does throw, he's very impressive.”
While Malzahn isn’t worried about Marshall’s reaction Saturday, he’s plenty concerned with Georgia’s starting quarterback, senior Aaron Murray, who this season has set SEC all-time records for most passing yards, touchdowns and total yards.
“He’s good at everything he does,” Malzahn said of Murray. “He can hurt in the passing game, he’s a veteran guy, and he’s pretty fast when he takes off and he knows how to run an offense. He’s one of the better quarterbacks to ever play in this league and I think that says it all.”
Bowl scenarios abound for Tigers
Auburn’s six-win turnaround this season has assured itself a major bowl, but where exactly is still very much in flux.
Winning out could potentially mean a chance at the BCS National Championship for the No. 7 Tigers, which would necessitate wins over No. 25 Georgia, No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl and a likely ranked matchup with Missouri or South Carolina in the SEC Championship game. But that would mean a 1-loss Auburn would have to jump a potentially undefeated Ohio State or Florida State in the BCS standings.
Several websites are predicting Auburn would go to the BCS Allstate Sugar Bowl as the SEC’s automatic qualifier with No. 1 Alabama expected to win the Iron Bowl game Nov. 30 and then claim a third straight SEC championship to punch their ticket to the BCS National Championship game.
The one hold out is CBSSports.com BCS expert Jerry Palm, who predicts Auburn would be the SEC’s No. 6 selection and face Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Georgia, which plays Auburn on Saturday, is listed as the No. 5 SEC team bound for the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.
Be mindful of ticket scalpers
The Auburn athletic ticket office is reminding Tigers fans to exercise caution and be on the lookout for counterfeit tickets to Auburn’s final two home games against No. 25 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama.
The only authorized ticket outlets are the Auburn ticket office itself, the opposing school’s ticket office and the ticketing website StubHub.
Fans can verify a ticket’s authenticity by the bar code or by visiting the ticket office at the Auburn Arena. However, if tickets have been duplicated, copied, resold in any way, the first ticket to enter the stadium will be considered “good” and any subsequent tickets will be invalid.
If fans suspect an individual is selling counterfeit tickets, they are asked to please alert the nearest law enforcement official.