AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Nick Marshall knows the Auburn Tigers can't afford to keep starting games sluggishly.
Not with the Iron Bowl just seven days away.
''We just came out not ready to play at the beginning of the game,'' the senior quarterback said. ''As the game got going, we got back to playing Auburn football.''
Cameron Artis-Payne ran for 129 yards and a touchdown, Marshall passed for 171 yards and a score and No. 16 Auburn snapped a two-game skid with a 31-7 victory over Samford on Saturday night.
Auburn (8-3) used the game against an FCS opponent to tune up for next week's showdown at No. 2 Alabama.
''I think we're in a good spot heading into the Iron Bowl,'' coach Gus Malzahn said. ''I know our guys will be ready. I'm really looking forward to it.''
The Tigers, who upset Alabama last year before narrowly losing the national title game to Florida State, needed a morale boost after dropping from third to 14th in the College Football Playoff rankings with consecutive losses to Texas A&M and Georgia.
They got a boost from Artis-Payne, the Southeastern Conference's leading rusher, who has gained 100-plus yards eight times this season. He averaged 5.4 yards on 24 attempts.
With students out for next week's Thanksgiving break, Artis-Payne believes the Tigers will benefit from concentrating solely on Alabama.
''It's nice to not have class so we can focus fully on Alabama and try to get a win,'' Artis-Payne said. ''All in all, we were going to do that either way if the students are there or not.''
Samford, a Birmingham-based Southern Conference school coached by former Auburn quarterback and 1971 Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan, snapped a four-game winning streak.
''It's always nice to come back to this place, but it's not about me,'' Sullivan said. ''It's about these guys and their opportunity to come and play in an environment like this. I was happy for them.''
The Bulldogs (7-4) had a chance to cut the lead to seven early in the third quarter, but Wade Handrahan missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt wide left.
Auburn quickly went 10 plays, 80 yards to make it 24-7 as Marshall threw into the left flats and Corey Grant caught the pass for an easy 13-yard touchdown.
The Tigers' offense, coming off its worst performance of Malzahn's two-year tenure last week at Georgia, was in a deep funk early with three punts, an interception and 36 total yards on its first four possessions.
''They knew a couple of our plays early, so we've got to do a better job with that,'' Malzahn said. ''We kind of got some rhythm in that second quarter, and we're a rhythm offense. After that point we played pretty solid.''
Marshall regained his composure with a three-play scoring drive that included a 49-yard pass to Sammie Coates and Quan Bray's 23-yard touchdown run to force a 7-all tie.
Marshall completed 11 of 18 passes, but he ran for minus-8 yards, a career-worst, on 11 attempts.
Tigers defensive tackle Montravius Adams made three big plays in the first half, stopping Jeremiaha Gates for no gain to force a punt and chasing down quarterback Michael Eubank from behind for a 12-yard sack on third down that set up the Tigers' second score, a 29-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson that made it 10-7.
On Samford's last possession of the first half, Adams pressured Eubank into an inaccurate pass on third down, and Auburn went ahead 17-7 six plays later on Artis-Payne's 7-yard TD run.
Samford was stout in the game's first quarter and a half.
Bulldogs defensive end Brandon Wilkinson sacked Marshall to force Auburn to punt on its opening possession, and cornerback James Bradberry stopped the Tigers' second drive by intercepting Marshall on a deep pass to Coates.
Samford went ahead 7-0 midway through the second. Auburn blitzed two men off the right side, but Eubank avoided the pressure to hit halfback Tony Philpot for a 7-yard TD.
Bray became the first Auburn player to score a touchdown in the same season on a punt return, a catch and a run. He finished with 131 all-purpose yards against the Bulldogs.
Roc Thomas added a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 31-7 midway through the fourth.
D'haquille Williams, the Tigers' leading receiver, missed his second straight game with a sprained right knee, but Malzahn has said he could return next week. Malzahn said receiver Ricardo Louis, the fourth-leading receiver, was held out to stay fresh for the Alabama game.
Marshall, Artis-Payne, center Reese Dismukes, defensive tackle Gabe Wright and three starting defensive backs were among 27 seniors playing their last game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn improved to 27-0-1 against Samford.