KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Nick Marshall was on the precipice of history.
When he finally exited Saturday's game with 6:12 remaining, Marshall had tallied 214 rushing yards, putting the junior just eight yards shy of Auburn's school record for a quarterback. While he didn't get the record, the Georgia native was more than happy to settle with a victory over Tennessee.
In their final road contest of the year, the Tigers walloped the Volunteers 55-23, marking the most points scored by either team in the history of the series.
The margin of victory wasn't lost on Gus Malzahn.
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"A very big win for us on the road against a team that has been playing extremely well at home," Auburn's head coach said. "It was a great crowd. It was loud down there. It was a true team effort."
Of course, no single player had a bigger hand in the victory than Malzahn's starting quarterback.
Marshall couldn't recall whether he'd ever had such a spectacular rushing performance before — perhaps in junior college last season, he said — but it was a display seen only three times in the Tigers' illustrious annals. Travis Tidwell's 222 rushing yards against Furman in 1946 remains the standard for Auburn quarterbacks, followed by Cam Newton's 217 versus LSU in 2010.
After Saturday's 214-yard effort, Marshall was able to place himself alongside Bobby Hunt, who had the same total against Mississippi State in 1959.
Downplaying the accomplishment, Marshall said Auburn (9-1, 5-1 SEC) simply exploited Tennessee's weak spots.
"It was just something the defense was giving us and then I was able to make the correct reads," he said. "And our offensive line, they blocked their tails off tonight."
In hindsight, even Marshall's lone mistake Saturday did little to slow down the Tigers, winners of six straight games.
With Auburn up 27-13 just before halftime, Marshall rolled out and tried to get rid of the ball. Jacques Smith didn't let that happen, as Tennessee's senior defensive end snagged it out of the air and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 27-20 with 1:28 remaining in the second quarter.
"The guy (Smith) made a really good catch and anticipated the play, so hey , that's part of it, we'll go to the next play," Malzahn said. "That's one of Nick's strengths: He doesn't get too high or too low, and he came back and responded extremely well."
That was no hyberbole on his coach's part. Marshall came out on the ensuing possession and scored on a 38-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers ahead 34-20 as the first half ended.
From there, the rout was on, as Auburn added another 21 points in the final 30 minutes (compared to three for the hosts) to beat Tennessee for the sixth consecutive meeting.
For the fourth time this season, the Tigers finished with more than 400 yards rushing, topping out at 444 on Saturday. Not that it came as any surprise, however, as Tennessee entered the game with the worst rushing defense in the SEC. Aside from Marshall, running back Tre Mason once again had a standout showing, carrying 20 times for 117 yards and three touchdowns.
And for the second week in a row, the Tigers stuck almost exclusively with their running game; last week against Arkansas, Auburn threw it just nine times. On Saturday, it was even fewer, putting it in the air on only seven occasions.
The Volunteers (4-6, 1-5) acknowledged it was embarrassing they were unable to combat such a one-dimensional approach.
"That definitely hurts our pride as a defense because we want to be able to stop the runs," sophomore safety Brian Randolph said. "So we have to go defend them and try to get better."
Offense wasn't the only area to contribute scoring for the Tigers in Saturday's victory, though.
Chris Davis (on a second quarter 85-yard punt return) and Corey Grant (on 90-yard kickoff return to open the second half) scored touchdowns on special teams, marking the first time in Auburn history it has had both occur in the same game.
"That was big," Malzahn said. "The punt return was a long punt return. We had really good blocking at the point of attack. Corey Grant cut it back across the field. He's got real speed. Our guys did a really good job."
Well enough, in Malzahn's estimation, that he said he would let them enjoy it for the remainder of the day. Talk of Georgia — Auburn's opponent next week — can wait.
Much the same, the coach didn't allow himself to enter into any discussion of his expectations for the team, be it now or at the outset of the year.
"I was curious, just like our team was, 'How would we do?' and 'How would we improve?'" he said. "They found a way (today) and they have bought into what we asked them to do. I'm proud of them for that."