When the Auburn Tigers jumped out to a 27-10 lead by halftime on the strength of their top-tier running game, Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs looked like their luck booting talented players from their roster finally ran out. After skating past former UGA QB Zach Mettenberger when LSU rolled into Athens a few weeks ago, the Bulldogs faced another former teammate in Auburn QB Nick Marshall.
Marshall hasn't thrown much in his career for a QB, in part because he was considered a DB by almost every school that recruited him. Georgia recruited him as a QB but switched him over to DB towards the end of their recruitment. Marshall went to UGA for a year and played all 13 games as a DB, but was dismissed from the team after admitting his role in a break-in of a teammate's dorm. Marshall, like Mettenberger, duked it out in JUCO before Gus Malzahn needed a Cam Newton-prototype to run his offense again at Auburn.
Marshall was perfect for the gig in a rebuilding offense centered around the running game. The Tigers, like many SEC powerhouses, are usually stacked at tailback, and RB Tre Mason is leading a triple-headed monster in the backfield. Marshall stepped right in to lead an incredible turnaround for a team that went just 4-4 in the conference a year ago, utilizing his athletic ability to it's full potential in Malzahn's triple-option, hurry-up offense.
It looked easy for Marshall in the first half, reading a defense he used to be a part of like a comic book. He threw the ball 26 times against the Bulldogs after throwing just 16 times over the last three games, and racked up 89 rushing yards to keep Georgia's defense off balance all night.
But the Dawgs are blessed with a talented, experienced leader in Aaron Murray. Down 20 points with just over 12 minutes in the game, Murray led the Bulldogs to 21 unanswered points, earning their first lead of the game with less than two minutes remaining. Murray put the team on his back on fourth down on Auburn's five-yard line, shedding tackles and a shot to the dome for a rushing TD that gave UGA a 38-37 lead.
What looked like a huge victory for an embattled Bulldog team quickly turned into another disappointment. Marshall was not to be denied, and the final 73 yards of his 229 in the air were by far the most important. On fourth and 18, after UGA finally dragged the evasive Marshall down in the backfield by his ankles, the first-year QB heaved the ball down field to Ricardo Louis. Louis couldn't make a play on the ball, but freshman safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, who had an otherwise outstanding game, let the ball hit off his hands instead of knocking it down. The ball stayed in the air long enough for Louis to snag it and jog into the end zone with 25 seconds remaining. The Tigers snuck away with a 43-38 victory in a game they seemed to dominate but were still lucky to win.
The victory means the Iron Bow in two weeksl is a ticket to the SEC Championship with a possible BCS berth at stake as well. Nobody expected Auburn to challenge for Alabama's crown this quickly, but they're 60 minutes away from doing just that. Though the BCS trophy has gotten awfully comfortable in the state of Alabama, an Auburn victory could eliminate the SEC's chances of getting into the BCS title game, with FSU and OSU remaining undefeated.
Perhaps it would be fitting end to the BCS era, considering Auburn is the only SEC team to go undefeated and miss out on the big game. Or perhaps I'm just being a slightly bitter Georgia fan right now. Either way, it's all up for grabs next week in Jordan-Hare Stadium, and Nick Marshall is has the Tigers acting like they're right where they belong.
And if he keeps playing like he's capable, he'll earn more than just Cam Newton comparison$.