Editor's note: Saturday's SEC Championship between No. 3 Auburn and No. 5 game is littered with talented players. To pare things down a bit, Auburn beat writer Ryan Black highlights six players (three for each team) that will likely play the largest role in the outcome of Saturday's SEC Championship game.
Wt: 210 pounds
Stats (in 11 games): 119-for-201 (59.2 percent), 1,627 yards, 11 touchdowns, 5 interceptions; Rushing: 140 carries, 922 yards (eighth-most in SEC), 10 touchdowns (tied for ninth-most in SEC)
His impact on the game will be: continuing to run the Tigers’ read-option scheme with masterful precision. The Georgia native has scored five rushing touchdowns in the past three games, but has proven he’s every bit as lethal with his arm — when it’s needed, anyway. Given Missouri’s talented and well-rounded defense, Marshall will likely need to make plays with both his arm and his feet to give Auburn’s offense the chance to work in space.
Pos.: Running back
Stats: 237 carries (most in SEC), 1,317 rushing yards (most in SEC), 18 rushing touchdowns (most in SEC)
His impact on the game will be: attempting to soften up Missouri’s defense up the middle to open up perimeter running lanes for Marshall and Corey Grant. No player has been more consistent than Mason during Auburn’s eight-game winning streak, averaging 122.4 rushing yards and scoring at least one touchdown in each game (14 in all) of that stretch.
Pos.: Defensive end
Wt: 240 pounds
Stats (in 10 games): 23 tackles, 12 tackles for loss (fifth-most in SEC), 8 sacks (fourth-most in SEC), 2 forced fumbles
His impact on the game will be: making himself a nuisance for Missouri quarterback James Franklin. The senior defensive end has made a habit out of that this season; what’s more, he seems to always find his way to the into the backfield when it matters most. Twice this season, he has sealed victories for the Tigers — against Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Georgia’s Aaron Murray, respectively — by leveling the quarterback on the opponent’s final snap.
Wt: 230 pounds
Stats (in nine games): 162-for-242 (66.9 percent), 1,952 yards, 16 touchdowns, 4 interceptions; Rushing: 91 carries, 412 yards, 4 touchdowns
His impact on the game will be: keeping Auburn’s defense off-balance with his dual-threat capabilities. No, Franklin doesn’t have the shiftiness or pure speed of a Johnny Manziel, but he bears a striking resemblance to Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, who shares the same height/weight attributes at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds. Franklin just hopes he can match the numbers Prescott put up in his Sept. 14 matchup against Auburn: 133 rushing yards and two touchdowns along with 213 passing yards.
Pos.: Wide receiver
Wt: 225 pounds
Stats: 49 receptions, 686 receiving yards, 10 touchdown receptions
His impact on the game will be: trying to replicate the performance Texas A&M’s Mike Evans had against Auburn. Back on Oct. 12, Evans reeled in four touchdowns and a school-record 287 receiving yards. Green-Beckham, standing an inch taller than the 6-foot-5 Evans, can pose similar problems for an Auburn defense that has struggled to defend the pass all year.
Pos.: Defensive end
Wt: 255 pounds
Stats: 37 tackles, 18 tackles for loss (most in SEC), 10.5 sacks (most in SEC)
His impact on the game will be: forcing Auburn’s offensive line to pay special attention to him. Sam’s tackle for loss and sack totals speak for themselves: he’s a disruptive force that must be accounted for, lest Auburn wants its offense to face third-and-long situations with regularity.