Quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason said they share equal billing as the leaders of the Tigers’ rushing attack.
“We’re just figuring out ways to keep being dangerous together,” said Mason, who has scored seven rushing touchdowns in his past two games. “That’s what me and Nick always go to each other and say: ‘It’s time to take over.’”
Neither junior had any problem doing that Saturday, as they combined for 331 rushing yards and five touchdowns in Auburn’s 55-23 victory over Tennessee. Marshall accounted for 214 of those yards on the ground, which marked the third-best rushing effort ever by a Tiger quarterback.
He was so good it gave Mason flashbacks to another quarterback who directed the Tigers' offense just three years ago.
“When we (watch) film, it looks (like) Cam (Newton),” Mason said. “Nick’s dangerous on his legs. He’s going to keep doing that and that’s what’s going to make us win games.”
His play Saturday was more than enough to help the Tigers pick up their sixth straight victory, he flummoxing and frustrating the Volunteers defense along the way.
It even forced Butch Jones to defend the unit during his postgame press conference, noting that Tennessee “wasn’t the only school” Marshall has gashed on the ground this season.
“We’ve played against a high level of competition,” he said. “When you play a fast team like Auburn that has great team speed and a quarterback that has the elusiveness of Nick Marshall, you have to be decisive in the way you tackle. If you sit back and play on your heels, it’s over with.”
After his third rushing effort of 100 yards or more this season, Marshall acknowledged he was glad he has had the opportunity to show off his running ability. Of course, he said most of the credit wasn’t due to him.
“Our offensive line (has been) blocking their tails off,” he said. “And I’ve just been able to get out on the edge and make plays with my legs.”
Reese Dismukes gave the compliment back. The team's starting center, Dismukes appreciated the praise, but pointed out it never hurts when you get to block for such talented players.
“You've got great backs like Tre is and Nick, and (it) makes your job easier,” he said. “You like them because they're going to pound it up in there. That's the big thing: They make our job easier and we try to make their job easier.”
While Marshall’s trio of 100-yard outings have come in the last six contests, Mason has been the Tigers’ consistent, go-to player in the backfield since the season opener. He leads the team in carries (181), yards (1,038) and touchdowns (16), with his scoring total representing the most rushing touchdowns in the SEC.
With Marshall and Mason making things look so easy, the Tigers have all but abandoned their passing game the past two weeks, throwing a combined 16 passes against Arkansas and Tennessee.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn acknowledged it’s quite a luxury to be able to implement an almost run-exclusive game plan. And he was fine with mentioning the obvious.
He knew as well as anyone it wouldn’t be possible to run the ball they have in 2013 if it wasn’t for Marshall and Mason guiding the way.
“When you're running the football (well), just keep doing it,” he said. “That's kind of who we're developing into. I still believe we can throw the football. There's no doubt in my mind that we can, but when you don't have to, there's a pretty good feeling when you can line up and run the football at will.”