Auburn won a high-profile game against a ranked opponent in dramatic fashion on Saturday, continuing the trend it started last season with a 35-31 road victory over Ole Miss.
The Tigers appeared to have lost the lead when Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell took a screen pass toward the end zone in the final minutes, but linebacker Kris Frost hustled to catch Treadwell from behind, tackled him on the goal line and jarred the bar loose (in regrettably gruesome fashion). Treadwell rolled over his ankle and had to be carted off the field, but the fumble, which was recovered in the end zone by Auburn, was confirmed by a video replay.
But while the defense (for once) made the customary "miracle" play in Auburn's win, it wasn't the defense that won the Tigers this game. It was the offense. Namely, it was quarterback Nick Marshall.
Playing against a defense that entered first in the country in points allowed per game (10.5), Marshall gained more than 300 total yards, scored four touchdowns and navigated Auburn to three long touchdown drives on consecutive possessions in the second half.
And he deserves to be a Heisman finalist for it.
Marshall completed 15 of 22 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and rushed 10 times for 50 yards and another two scores. He beat the Rebels with his arm (which is ever-improving) and his legs (which are almost without parallel), sometimes using both in the same, unearthly jolt.
Take, for example, this 57-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates at the end of the second quarter, before which Marshall side-stepped a rushing defender in the backfield:
Auburn punted on its first possession of the second half but scored touchdowns on its next three after that. Combined with the touchdown above, that means it scored touchdowns on four of five possessions against the "Landsharks" on their own field.
Before Week 10, Ole Miss had allowed eight touchdowns all season.
The second-half touchdown drives Marshall orchestrated went 73 yards in seven plays, 96 yards in 11 plays (!!!) and 75 yards in nine plays, respectively. The first got Auburn within three points after an Ole Miss touchdown, the second gave Auburn a four-point lead after an Ole Miss punt and the third gave Auburn a four-point lead—the eventual 35-31 margin—after another Ole Miss touchdown.
Every time Ole Miss threw a punch, Marshall responded with a counter. It was one thing when he was countering against South Carolina—a team that now officially has a losing record—but another thing to counter against one of the best defenses in the country.
"If Marshall can get things cooking this week and keep it up against the stingy 'Landsharks' defense at Ole Miss, he'd be back in the Heisman mix with the porous Texas A&M defense coming to The Plains on Nov. 8," wrote Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee before Marshall dominated South Carolina last weekend.
"If It's close, our guys believe they're going to win," said Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn after the victory, per Travis Haney of ESPN.com. "And we've done it in some of the most bizarre ways."
That belief in the most trying moments is an extension of Marshall, which is what makes Marshall one of the most valuable players in college football. Only Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston—one of three quarterbacks Marshall has ever lost to—does it better.
Presently, Marshall's case for the Heisman falls behind those of Dak Prescott (another one of the quarterbacks who has beaten Marshall) and Marcus Mariota (whose stats far exceed those of Marshall) but lands on the tier right behind them alongside players such as Winston and Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson.
If Auburn continues winning, and if Marshall continues catalyzing those wins, there's a chance he could sneak into the front-runner conversation. He would need to get some help, but it's possible.
Either way, though, he will deserve to make the trip to New York.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT