In the NFL, players move around quite a bit and it’s not unusual for guys to play against their former teams and teammates. But there is much less mobility among college football players, and it’s even more unlikely that a guy will play against his former team after transferring. But try throwing that old bone to the Georgia Bulldogs, which are set to face a former teammate, and current Tiger, for the second time this season at No. 7 Auburn Saturday.
The Tigers’ quarterback, junior Nick Marshall, signed with Georgia out of high school in 2011 and played in 13 games at cornerback for the Bulldogs that season. Marshall played so well that Georgia coaches instantly tabbed him as a future All-SEC caliber defensive player. Had he stayed in Athens, Auburn’s QB might have been a team leader in the Georgia secondary heading into Saturday’s game.
Instead, that possibility ended when Georgia coach Mark Richt dismissed Marshall from the team prior to the 2012 season for a violation of team rules. He spent one year at Garden City (Kan.) Community College before his return to the SEC this season. And what a season it’s been so far.
Marshall has flourished in Gus Malzahn’s offense, racking up 1,301 passing yards and eight touchdowns along with 734 rushing yards and seven more scores. He’s been the leader of an offensive attack that has turned the Tigers around, from 3-9 in 2012 to 9-1 and from 118th in the nation in total offense to 14th this season. Not to mention Marshall and Auburn control their destiny in the SEC title hunt and could sneak into the BCS championship game with a little help.
But there are some huge hurdles left to clear. And before Auburn gets a crack at No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 30, the Tigers will have to tussle this weekend with a Georgia team that’s dominated The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry lately. The Bulldogs have claimed six of the last seven meetings, and Georgia has won the last two games by a combined score of 83-7 to pull the series even at 54-54-8.
Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs will take on a former teammate for the second time this season. Georgia already downed LSU and Zach Mettenberger, who began his college career in Athens. Like Marshall after him, Mettenberger was dismissed from the Bulldogs’ team and wound up at junior college in Kansas before returning to the SEC as a Tiger.
Mettenberger has already bested Marshall in LSU’s 35-21 win over Auburn. But Marshall now has an opportunity to do what Mettenberger could not and defeat their old team.
Georgia played LSU before being completely obliterated by injuries to key players, and Auburn is now surging since losing to the Bayou Bengals. The Bulldogs have two key offensive players back in the lineup – RB Todd Gurley and WR Michael Bennett – but will that be enough to help them take down another Bulldog turned Tiger QB?
Marshall and the Auburn offense present different challenges than LSU, namely the SEC’s top rushing attack (320 yards per game). But Georgia’s run defense is only giving up 126 yards, fourth-best in the league.
Though Marshall’s passing stats are anything but spectacular, he has proven he can also win a game with his arm. When Auburn was held to its lowest rushing output (202 yards) in an early-season game, against the SEC’s other Bulldogs (Mississippi State) no less, Marshall completed 23-of-34 passes for a career-high 339 yards and two touchdowns.
Most importantly, with less than two minutes to go he led the Tigers on a game-winning, 88-yard drive, during which he completed six-of-eight passes, including the 11-yard TD to C.J. Uzomah that gave the Tigers a 24-20 comeback win.
The bottom line is this: Defenses have to force Auburn to throw by stuffing the run. Otherwise, the best rushing attack in the SEC will eventually grind you into submission. Can the Georgia defense hold up against Marshall, Tre Mason and the rest of the Tigers’ dangerous ball-carriers? Or will Game 2 against an old friend go the other way?