Big-game spotlight on Nick Marshall, Bo Wallace
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Mississippi's Bo Wallace and Auburn's Nick Marshall haven't had to pass for 300 yards every Saturday to help launch their teams into national title contention.
Wallace has the seventh-ranked Rebels terrific defense to back him up. Marshall, meanwhile, is every bit as much of a threat running the ball for the fourth-ranked Tigers as throwing it.
The two dangerous Southeastern Conference quarterbacks bring different styles, and the same knack for winning, into Saturday night's game at Ole Miss. Both are big reasons their teams are third (Auburn) and fourth (Ole Miss) in the initial College Football Playoff rankings.
The former junior college players are also two of the most experienced quarterbacks in a league with an abundance of first-year starters.
Wallace has sacrificed some of the big passing numbers for a steady diet of 200-yard games and fewer mistakes. After opening with three straight 300-yard performances, he has restrained some of his old gunslinger tendencies with the nation's top scoring defense having his back.
''He's a veteran guy,'' Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. ''I think he's protected the football better, he's made good decisions. He's a lot better runner than people think, and he's the leader of that team.''
Wallace hadn't thrown an interception in four SEC games for the Rebels (7-1, 4-1) before getting picked off near the goal line in the final seconds of a 10-7 loss to No. 16 LSU.
Wallace said the environment at LSU affected the Rebels.
''The biggest thing was we let the atmosphere dictate how we played,'' he said. ''As a quarterback, I've really prided myself on keeping guys calm and being calm. I didn't do a great job of that and our offense didn't do a great job. This week I really have to talk to myself and do like I've been doing the whole year in making sure guys are calm and I'm calm and being a leader out there.''
Defensively, the Ole Miss focus is clear for this game: Finding a way to slow down Marshall.
The quarterback who led Auburn (6-1, 3-1) to the brink of a national title in his first season as starter is a constant threat with the zone read, when he can hand off to the SEC's No. 3 rusher Cameron Artis-Payne or keep it and dart through the line.
Both quarterbacks have made costly mistakes in SEC West road games. Wallace's came on his final play against LSU.
Marshall was picked off twice in a loss to No. 1 Mississippi State, one on Auburn's first play from scrimmage. He'll face another challenging environment at Ole Miss but has already won at No. 11 Kansas State this season.
''I have a lot of trust in him,'' Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. ''He's our senior quarterback, he's in his second year, he's a big-time playmaker for us. He does a good job of making plays and protecting the ball.
''We're like anybody else: We're going to go as you're quarterback goes to a large degree, especially on the road in hostile environments when you're going to need big throws made, big third downs conversions in the red zone, drives when you need kind of stop moment swings. We have a lot of confidence in him.''
Not just in his passing. In two of Marshall's best all-around performances of the season, he attempted 22 passes against LSU and 14 versus South Carolina.
He has a reputation for being calm under pressure given so many of Auburn's dramatic wins. The Tigers will need him to live up to it to win Saturday.
''Nick is Nick,'' Auburn center Reese Dismukes said. ''He's going to be the same guy no matter who he is playing or no matter how big the game is. He's just an athlete who is going to do whatever he can to help this team win.''
The same could be said for Wallace.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Oxford, Mississippi, contributed to this report.