Auburn Tigers: Player of the Week

Player of the week: SEC

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
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Was there any doubt?

Tre Mason was easily the most impressive player in the SEC, if not the country, over the weekend when he almost single-handedly beat Missouri to win the conference championship for Auburn.

Against a defensive front Alabama coach Nick Saban called the best in the league, Mason had his way. He left the Georgia Dome with a record 304 yards and four touchdowns. He was a workhorse, too, carrying the ball 46 times without a single fumble.

SEC and Auburn legend Bo Jackson looked on from the sideline and had to be impressed.

"He was like, 'You're probably one of the best players to ever put on an Auburn helmet,'" Mason said of Jackson. "He just was thanking me for being here. I was thanking him for being a mentor to me."

If one game can win the Heisman Trophy, Mason did as much anyone could to sway voters his way against Missouri. In fact, you could argue he did it in back-to-back weeks after gashing Alabama for 164 yards and a touchdown in the Iron Bowl.

Auburn senior defensive end Dee Ford thinks Mason deserves all the recognition he can get.

"Tre for Heisman," a giddy Ford said as he walked away from a brief session with reporters on Sunday. "It's going viral."

"I see a performance like that out of Tre every week," Auburn fullback Jay Prosch said a day earlier. "He runs hard, and he's the same runner every time. I love the guy."

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn checked in with Mason during the course of the game against Missouri and asked if he needed a break.

"He had that look on his face," Malzahn explained. "He said, 'Coach, keep giving it to me.'"

And what he did in Atlanta convinced Malzahn that he has a special player on his hands.

"He's proved he's one of the best running backs in the country, if not the best."

For at least one week, and probably a few more, he's shown he is.

Player of the week: SEC

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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Without Nick Marshall, Chris Davis' grand finale -- the play now etched in history as Auburn's "Kick-Six," -- couldn't have happened. It was an Iron Bowl for the ages, as Marshall's Tigers pulled the staggering upset.

The Tigers' junior college transfer quarterback has come through in the clutch repeatedly throughout this miracle of a season. Saturday, in his and Auburn's biggest game of the season, he did it again.

As usual, Marshall directed Gus Malzahn's offense to great success with his arm and legs. He had the first big play of the game, a 45-yard TD sprint untouched on a read-option keeper that showed off his blazing speed. Marshall's uncanny connection on the read-option with tailback Tre Mason, the SEC's leading rusher, was on full display in the first half as the Tigers racked up 162 yards on the ground.

Alabama's defense came into Saturday's game with imposing numbers -- fourth in the nation in rushing defense, giving up 91.3 yards a game, and one touchdown or less allowed in nine of 11 games.

After it was over, Marshall and the Tigers' running game had earned the respect of Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.

"They are a very difficult offense to defend. Like I said, it takes a lot of discipline," he said. "You certainly have to stop the run a little better than we did today to have a chance to beat a team like this."

Perhaps most impressive was the Tigers' fortitude in fighting back to tie the score twice after being down 21-7 in the second quarter.

"You've got to maintain your poise and play football until the clock says zero," Mason said. "He's the leader, he's the quarterback, he has to lead us and he's doing a good job of [showing poise]."

Marshall finished 11-of-16 passing for 97 yards and two touchdowns, none bigger than his nifty toss to a wide-open Sammie Coates for a 39-yard score that tied the score at 28-28 with 32 seconds remaining.

With 99 yards on 17 carries, Marshall now has the fourth-most rushing yards in the nation among QBs (922) to go along with 10 TDs. He's averaging 83.8 yards a game, fifth in the nation among QBs.

More importantly, after two straight miracle finishes, Marshall has the No. 3 Tigers in the SEC championship game and poised to challenge for the BCS national championship game.

For the former Georgia Bulldog defensive back who transformed back into a quarterback at little Garden City (Kan.) Community College, it doesn't get any more impressive than the arc of this season's journey.

Player of the week: SEC

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
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The Gus Bus is humming along at Auburn.

A 55-23 win at Tennessee on Saturday has Gus Malzahn looking like a genius, as Nick Marshall, the man he's put behind the wheel has made all the right turns on offense.

Marshall said he was simply "going with the flow" when he carved up the Vols defense, rushing for 214 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries. Tennessee's defenders couldn't figure him out, and when they had their hands on him, they couldn't bring him down.

"They were giving us a lot of choices," Marshall told reporters, "but they can't really stop the run. So we kept our foot on their throat and ran it down their throat."

It was clear watching Auburn dismantle Tennessee: Malzahn might be the best play-caller in the SEC, and he might have found the perfect quarterback to execute his plays in Marshall.

"He's a great athlete," Malzahn said of Marshall. "He's starting to understand the offense, he's making the right decisions and when he gets the ball out in space, he can really do some things."

Auburn doesn't throw the ball much, averaging 11.3 attempts in its past three games, but it doesn't have to. Passing has become optional with Marshall orchestrating the offense.

Running the read-option, Marshall helped Auburn to a total of 444 yards on the ground at Neyland Stadium, increasing its lead as the league's top rushing attack. Tre Mason benefited to the tune of 117 yards and three touchdowns. Marshall, meanwhile, finished eight yards shy of a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback. His 214 yards were the most of any player in the SEC this season and tied for third in Auburn's history behind Cam Newton's 217-yard performance against LSU in 2010.

There was no doubt that Marshall, who was named the SEC Player of the Week on offense, was at his best against Tennessee. Of the 30 best single-game rushing performances in the FBS this year, his 15.29 yards per rush against the Vols trailed only Army's Terry Baggett, who ran for 16.89 yards per rush against Eastern Michigan.

Now he just has to keep it up.

If the Gus Bus is going to reach a BCS bowl, Marshall will be the one driving it.

Next stop: Georgia.

Player of the week: SEC

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
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Growing up, Tre Mason said he was always looked at as an underdog. Those days are over. The Auburn running back rushed for 168 yards and a career-high four touchdowns in the Tigers’ 35-17 win at Arkansas on Saturday.

It was obvious early on that it was going to be one of those days for Mason. He picked up 15 yards on his first carry, and he had 59 yards and a touchdown on the first two Auburn drives. The coaches knew it, too. They kept giving him the rock, and by the end of the game, the junior had a career-high 32 carries. He scored a touchdown in every quarter.

Before the season, it was Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley who were first-team All-SEC nominations, but through nine games, Mason has surpassed both of them and is on par with South Carolina’s Mike Davis as the league’s best running back.

He leads the SEC (third nationally) with 13 touchdowns, and he’s third in the conference (13th nationally) with 921 yards.

More importantly, he has become a workhorse for this Auburn team. Early in the season, he split carries with Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, but that changed when the Tigers began their SEC slate. The coaches put the offense on Mason’s back, and he has delivered. He’s averaging a league-best 23.2 carries per game in the team’s five conference games.

The 5-foot-10, 205-pound back rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns at LSU. He had 178 yards and a touchdown at Texas A&M. And he put together maybe his performance yet with 168 yards and four scores Saturday at Arkansas.

Auburn is ranked No. 9 in the latest BCS standings, and with three games still to play, the Tigers control their own destiny in the SEC West.

“Our goal is the national championship,” Mason said. “It’s a team goal. And it’s not going to change.”

The bar is set pretty high for a team that finished 3-9 a season ago, but if Mason keeps running this way, who is going to stop them? Next up is another road game with Tennessee, and you can bet Mason’s name will be called early and often against the Volunteers.

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