PASADENA, Calif. — Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is probably best known for heaving the last-minute pass that was tipped by a Georgia defensive back and resulted in a game-winning touchdown for the Tigers.
But Marshall’s talents and contributions to Auburn’s 12-1 season go far beyond that one play, and they will be on display Monday against Florida State in the Bowl Championship Series title game at the Rose Bowl.
Marshall has rushed for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns and passed for 12 touchdowns, with five interceptions.
His performance under first-year Coach Gus Malzahn helped the Tigers go from 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the Southeastern Conference last season to the brink of a possible BCS title.
“Coach Malzahn said, ‘It’s going to be a new day and the biggest turnaround in college football,’” Marshall said Thursday during a news conference in Newport Beach, Calif. “It has been the biggest turnaround in college football, so we’re just going to keep pushing on from here.”
Marshall, a football and basketball star in high school, played cornerback at Georgia in 2011, but he was dismissed from the program for violating team rules. Marshall reportedly was connected to an alleged incident involving a theft from a Georgia teammate.
Like former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who left Florida after an off-the-field incident, Marshall enrolled at a junior college to restart his career, and he is thankful for the opportunity to have a second chance.
He played quarterback last season at Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kan., and transferred to Auburn last summer.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior passed for 339 yards against Mississippi State and for more than 200 yards three times. He rushed for 214 yards against Tennessee and for 100 yards or more in three other games.
But his 73-yard touchdown pass to receiver Ricardo Louis against Georgia was his defining moment.
Auburn running back Tre Mason said receiver Ricardo Louis was not supposed to be in on the fourth-and-18 play. But Louis walked into the team’s sideline huddle with Malzahn during a timeout and told the coach and Marshall to throw him the ball.
“I put my trust in him, and he put his trust in me,” Marshall said.
Marshall took the snap, went through his progressions and threw the ball downfield. Two Georgia defenders were in position to knock down the pass, but they collided and the ball was tipped.
“Ricardo looked right, and then he looked left and then he looked the ball all the way in,” Marshall said.
The touchdown gave Auburn a 43-38 victory and set up the Tigers’ showdown against Alabama. Auburn won that game on Chris Davis’ last-second, 109-yard touchdown return of a field-goal attempt.
But Marshall’s pass and Louis’ catch two weeks before set the stage.
“I had faith that we had a chance because anything can happen at the end of the game,” Marshall said of the pass play. “It’s just one of those plays we can look back on as we get older.”
Florida State did not venture out of state to find the vast majority of players on its talented roster, and Auburn also has a significant Florida presence.
“We take pride in our state,” said Mason, a junior from Palm Beach who was a Heisman Trophy finalist after rushing for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns. “We’re always bragging.”
Mason said he was friends with many Florida State players, including Seminoles running back Karlos Williams, receiver Kelvin Benjamin and defensive backs Terrence Brooks, Lamarcus Brutus and Lamarcus Joyner.
So Mason is looking forward to Monday’s Bowl Championship Series title game, indicating that it will be as full of emotion as the annual Iron Bowl game between Auburn and Alabama.
“This is the Florida guys’ Iron Bowl because we’re playing our state,” he said. “This is our rivalry game. This is big to us.”
BACK AT THE TOP
Florida State is unbeaten under fourth-year Coach Jimbo Fisher, and Brooks is proud to be a part of the Seminoles’ resurgence as a member of one of college football’s top defenses.
“You definitely want to get the school back to the way it was,” Brooks said. “But for the most part, we just want to leave our own mark — and I think that’s what we took ahold of this year. We just want to just be remembered.”
Fisher, Brooks said, uses tombstones as a motivating device, specifically the hyphen that often is placed between a date of birth and date of death. The hyphen represents “your legacy” Brooks said, what you want to be remembered for.
Brooks was asked what the Florida State defense’s hyphen would represent.
“Just dominate,” Brooks said.
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