On the inside of his right bicep, Auburn first-year quarterback Nick Marshall has a script "Georgia" tattoo.
"That's just because I'm a natural-born Georgia boy," Marshall said.
For a second time this season, a former Georgia player will be quarterbacking against the Bulldogs. Georgia was able to survive Zach Mettenberger's 372 passing yards in a 44-41 triumph over LSU on Sept. 28, but now the Bulldogs will have to contain Marshall's rushing and playmaking skills.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior college transfer and former Bulldogs cornerback rushed 14 times for 214 yards last Saturday in a 55-23 dismantling of Tennessee. He engineered an offense that racked up 444 rushing yards and passed just seven times, with three completions for 35 yards, as Auburn racked up its most points ever against the Volunteers.
Marshall was named Monday as the Southeastern Conference's offensive player of the week, and his Tigers are 9-1 and ranked No. 7 as they await a visit from the 6-3 and No. 25 Bulldogs.
"He's handled everything perfectly," said junior tailback Tre Mason, who rushed for 117 yards at Tennessee and has 1,038 yards this season. "He's an athlete, and that's what an athlete does. He can run the ball and throw the ball, and he's a great leader. It's been fun watching him get better every week."
Won't this week will be different for Marshall, given the circumstances?
"Of course it's going to be emotional for him," Mason said. "He's going to be turned up."
Marshall set a Georgia prep record by throwing 103 career touchdown passes for Wilcox County High in Rochelle and signed with the Bulldogs in 2011 as a part of their heralded "Dream Team" class of Peach State prospects. He played in 13 games as a Georgia freshman on special teams or as a reserve cornerback, but he was dismissed from the program in the winter of 2012 for allegedly stealing from a teammate.
"I've said on plenty of occasions that if a guy has a situation where he doesn't finish here with Georgia after signing with us, our goal for him is to find a new home and have success there," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I'm happy for Nick."
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo told reporters this past weekend that he thought Marshall was "an NFL corner when he was here."
Marshall left Athens for Garden City Community College in Kansas, where he threw for 3,142 yards, rushed for 1,095 and totaled 37 touchdowns. He was rated by 247sports.com as the nation's No. 4 junior college quarterback, with the biggest knock being his 19 interceptions.
The Auburn chapters to his story began in August camp, when he and touted freshman Jeremy Johnson were the newcomers in a four-man quarterback race that included Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace.
"We were just doing our base offense and went live one day," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said, "and that was the day Nick really kind of distanced himself a little bit. When he knew exactly what to do, you could tell he was very comfortable. We knew then he could be a solid zone-read runner, but he's over-exceeded our expectations in that area."
Auburn opened this season by turning back Washington State 31-24 and then showed improvement in a 38-9 rout of Arkansas State, where Malzahn coached last year. The third game was the SEC opener against Mississippi State, which provided Marshall's coming-of-age moment.
With the Tigers trailing 20-17 with 1:56 remaining and having already thrown two interceptions, Marshall led a 12-play, 88-yard drive that culminated with an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds left. He rushed three times for 19 yards on that drive, and he completed 6 of 8 passes for 66 yards.
"We've had a couple of games that were tight and came down to the last drive, and he's just got a confidence about him," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee recently told reporters. "He knows how to win. Whether throwing for over 300 against Mississippi State or doing more of the speed runs against Ole Miss and Texas A&M, he doesn't get rattled. He's had stretches where he's missed some throws or fumbled, but he's done a good job of having a short memory."
Auburn averages 320 rushing yards a game, with Marshall having rushed 104 times for 734 yards and 7.1 yards per carry. The Tigers also have averaged 173.3 passing yards a game, and their 493.3 total yards per game dwarfs last season's 305-yard clip.
Marshall said he still keeps in touch with Georgia defensive backs Corey Moore and Damian Swann, referring to them as "close friends." Those friends will be trying to make Marshall's life miserable Saturday, but Malzahn has more confidence than ever in his quarterback.
"We ask a lot of our quarterback, even before the play is snapped," Malzahn said. "Then once the play is snapped, we are very specific in our reads and everything that goes with that, and the thing that has really stood out to me is that he is very hungry to learn. He's got a great attitude, and he very rarely makes the same mistake twice. He's a mentally and physically tough young man."
Odds and ends
Georgia's game next week against visiting Kentucky will have a 7 p.m. kickoff and will be televised by ESPN2 or ESPNU. ... Bulldogs backup tight end Jay Rome (foot) is not expected to play Saturday. ... Richt on former assistant Rodney Garner, who's now at Auburn: "He certainly knows defensively what we do and how we call things."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...
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