AUBURN, Ala. — Tre Mason can’t really describe it.
There’s something about Nick Marshall that makes him so poised, so unaffected by the magnitude of any situation. Auburn’s junior quarterback thrives under pressure, for one reason or another.
Mason wasn’t sure how Marshall does it, but the junior running back wasn’t going to complain.
“There are some things you can’t coach,” he said. “Some of the things he does, it’s just instinct and God-given talent. Some things like that, I don’t even know (what) to call them.”
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Marshall, as is his nature, downplayed taking too much of the credit for Auburn’s 45-41 victory over No. 7 Texas A&M. With the Tigers trailing by 34-24 less than a minute in the final period, the Tigers got on the comeback trail, keyed by Marshall. He ran for one touchdown and helped set up two more by deftly alternating between his feet and his arm.
And for the second time this season, the Georgia native led the Tigers on a game-winning drive late in the final stanza. Once Mason bowled into the end zone, Auburn had a 45-41 lead with 1:19 to play. After a stop by the defense on the Aggies' final drive, the Tigers had their first road victory in more than two years.
Nothing was particularly special about the go-ahead possession, Marshall pointed out, since the Tigers simply went out and executed.
“We were able to gash them a lot,” he said. “We paced them and we then knew we were going to be the more conditioned team in the second half, and it showed.”
It was a stark contrast to Auburn’s final possession against Mississippi State. Versus the Aggies, the Tigers were run heavy; of the 13 plays they ran, 10 were runs. Versus the Bulldogs, the Tigers took the opposite approach, throwing the ball eight times in 12 plays, ending with an 11-yard touchdown toss to C.J. Uzomah.
The only similarity between the two was Marcus Davis. The freshman receiver gashed the Bulldogs little-by-little, catching four of Marshall’s six completions. He made one catch against the Aggies, but he made it worthwhile, picking up 27 yards on third-and-nine to keep the drive alive.
Head coach Gus Malzahn was well-aware of the play’s enormity, calling the pitch-and-catch “big.”
“They were playing zero and putting everybody on the line of scrimmage and they kind of bottled us up a couple of times,” he said. “ Marcus made a great catch and our quarterback made a very good throw.”
Marshall relayed how the play unfolded through his eyes.
“I (saw) that they were low on Sammie (Coates) and I knew Marcus was going to have a step on him,” he said.
The fleet-footed Marshall had a step on Texas A&M defenders for the duration of the contest, running for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. He showed no signs of any lingering knee issues, which forced him to miss Auburn’s game against Western Carolina a week prior.
When asked about the severity of the injury, he deemed it was “nothing major.” It was simply tendinitis that got aggravated. Once he got treatment for it, he was good as new.
And Marshall wasn’t afraid to thank the person who helped him regain his health.
“Drew (Hamblin), our (assistant athletic) trainer, he worked on me well all this week,” Marshall said. “I give a shout out to him, because he really got my knee back to 100 percent.”
Who knows how Auburn would have fared Saturday if Marshall was in less-than-optimum condition? Of course, that will be a moot point for infinity. What's more germane to now is the two clutch, game-winning drives in he's had in just seven starts at Auburn.
Malzahn has continued to be impressed with his signal-caller’s maturation.
“For a guy that didn't go through spring, that says a lot,” he said. “Mississippi State was a big win at home, a lot of pressure. Then on the road in one of the toughest places to play in college football with the environment and Nick did a great job.”
And while many will remember the game for more Marshall heroics, the coach made sure to emphasize that it was a team effort through and through.
“The players deserve all the credit,” he said. “They’ve worked extremely hard. They bought into what we’re doing. They play together, they play for each other. We don’t have any individuals and it's a fun group to coach right now.”