- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUBURN, Ala. -- Nick Marshall has been in big games before. He played in both the SEC championship and the national championship last year. He’s faced off against two past Heisman Trophy winners. He recently returned to the state where he rejuvenated his career.
But will any of that prepare him for what he’s going to face Saturday when he goes back to Georgia, the school that dismissed him back in 2012 for a violation of team rules?
“Last year there’s no doubt it was definitely different for him,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “But any time you have that experience one time, it’s not as a big a deal the second time. He’s going to prepare like he normally would, and there’s not going to be any more to it than that.”
Tell Marshall that. The Auburn quarterback played one of his better games against the Bulldogs last season as he accounted for 318 total yards and three touchdowns in the 43-38 victory, but that was at home in front of his fans. On Saturday, he enters the lion’s den.
The Georgia fans haven’t forgotten about him. His former teammates certainly remember him. It’s not going to be a friendly atmosphere inside Sanford Stadium.
“He knows a lot of those guys over there,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “He spent a year there. It’s his home state. He’s human. But at the same time, when that game starts, he’s going to play just as hard as he would any other game.
“At the end of the day, he’s going to do whatever he can to try to help our team win.”
Prior to last year’s Georgia game, Marshall said he wasn’t going to treat it as anything too big because it was just another opponent.
Don’t expect that to change this year. That’s his mindset. It’s why he’s always so even-keeled and calm under pressure. It doesn’t matter if he just threw an interception or if he’s leading his team on a game-winning drive or if he’s about to face his former team.
“He's pretty much the same guy all the time,” Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne said. “His demeanor doesn't change too much. He doesn't go up and down.”
“I think that’s one of his biggest strengths,” added Lashlee. “I think it helps him not make too much of the situation and not make the moment bigger than it is. He can just focus on playing and trying to play his best because that’s what we’re going to need him to do in order to go into a place like Georgia and try to get a win.”
Saturday will be a big game for Marshall, but it will also be a big game for the other 40 players on Auburn’s roster who hail from the Peach State. They might not have started their careers at the University of Georgia, but they’re all returning to their home state.
“I think it’s going to mean a lot to Nick,” teammate Gabe Wright said. “He mentioned that he hasn’t been back since his freshman year.
“But honestly, it goes that way for a lot of guys. Me, [Angelo] Blackson, Jeff [Whitaker], Ben [Bradley], a lot of us haven’t been back in years. It will be as hyped up a game as I can imagine, but I’m pretty sure collectively we’re going to be focused and stay level-headed.”
That level-headed demeanor stems from Marshall, though. If he keeps his cool on the road, in a familiar, yet hostile atmosphere, then so will his team.
“He's just trying to come out and win,” Auburn wide receiver Quan Bray said. “He doesn't care about what's been going on, he just wants to come out and win.”