A growing confidence for QB and teammates

Perhaps no player in the country will enter Saturday’s games with more confidence than Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.

When last he was on your TV screen, he was putting the final touches on an 88-yard drive to beat Mississippi State with a touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah, formerly of North Gwinnett High, and Tigers players, coaches and fans saw the future flash.

“I thought he really grew up a lot,” fullback Jay Prosch said. “He has an unbelievable amount of potential, and I think he’s starting to get into that. His confidence is building every week. That was just a huge step up and a big sign.”

Marshall kept the drive alive with some running plays and his ability to move in the pocket.

“His ability to ad-lib and keep plays alive, maybe if we call a play and it’s not quite there, to make something out of it” is definitely a strength, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said, “and something we saw when we decided to go with him,” after only a few weeks in preseason camp.

Marshall will need to be at his best. Auburn hasn’t won at LSU since 1999.

“We don’t have any doubt that he won’t maintain his composure, but we have been telling him it’s going to be crazy,” Uzomah said.

Uzomah was talking about the fans and the atmosphere. But the other Tigers also await. LSU will bring out some defensive efforts that they’ve held in reserve during their first three nonconference games.

“I wouldn’t say we’re holding back,” safety Craig Loston said, “but we’re holding things for the right situation when they’re really needed. We’ve been doing a great job out of our base defense. We’ve been getting (quarterback) pressure without blitzing a lot.”

LSU ranks third in the SEC and 10th nationally, allowing 267.7 yards per game, but has recorded only six sacks, which is tied for fifth in the SEC.

— Ryan Black, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer and Scott Rabalasi, Baton Rouge Advocate

Tennessee at Florida, 3:30 p.m., CBS

‘Irrelevants’ at Tennessee

want to change trend

There was a time when this no doubt would have been the game of the day. But Tennessee-Florida is becoming an irrelevant rivalry.

For more than a decade, the series essentially decided the SEC’s Eastern Division — in September. The winner usually ended up in the Georgia Dome playing for the league title; the loser had to wait a year for another shot.

Now, though, the rivalry is as lopsided as some of its recent scores.

The 19th-ranked Gators (1-1) have won eight in a row against Tennessee (2-1), the series’ longest streak since the Volunteers won the first 10 meetings between 1916 and 1953. Florida has won the past six games by double digits, a couple of them nowhere near that close.

“It’s a great rivalry, but in order for us to continue to really make this a rivalry, we have to start winning some of these football games,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.

Jones gets a shot at ending the slide in Gainesville.

A victory might mean more to his players, who have no idea what it feels like to beat Florida.

“It would mean everything to our senior class because we’re setting the example, not only for ourselves, but for younger guys in the state of Tennessee,” defensive end Corey Miller said. “If we go out there and get a win against Florida, it would jump-start the Tennessee program back where it needs to be.”

The Gators, meanwhile, want nothing more than to open SEC play just like they have the past eight years — by beating the Volunteers.

“We know those guys are going to come down ready to throw some punches,” Florida safety Jaylen Watkins said. “We’ve beaten them (eight) times in a row. Obviously, they see that and they want to get one on us.”

‘Celebrity Mr. Two Bits’

Danny Wuerffel, now a Metro Atlanta resident, will return to the Swamp to fire up a sellout crowd and sadly may remind every Gators fan just who Jeff Driskel isn’t.

Wuerffel will serve as “Celebrity Mr. Two Bits,” honoring the tradition of firing up fans started by 91-year-old George Edmondson.

Wuerffel, who had 13 touchdowns in three wins against the Vols, including an epic 62-37 decision in 1995, will be honored at halftime for his induction to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Wuerffel has a tough act to follow. Career rushing leader Errict Rhett performed a memorable Two Bits rendition before the opener against Toledo on Aug. 31.

— The Associated Press

SMU at Texas A&M, 7 p.m., ESPNU

A receiver worthy of his quarterback

Yes, it helps that Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel pulls the trigger for Texas A&M.

But someone has to make the catches, and Manziel is just as fortunate to have Mike Evans on the receiving end.

Against Alabama, Evans had a 95-yard TD catch. But he’s much more than a one-play guy. With 20 catches and 518 yards, he is the only receiver to crack 500 yards in the nation this season and his seven catches for 279 yards against the Crimson Tide was the fourth-best effort in SEC history.

Coach Kevin Sumlin said that Evans played half of last fall with a bad hamstring. He’s healthy now, but Evans was so exhausted after Saturday’s game that he needed intravenous fluids.

In postgame interviews, Evans wouldn’t acknowledge his record-setting performance.

“I didn’t block as well as I was capable of — I know that,” said the sophomore split end. “I did some things, made some big plays, but it wasn’t enough in the end.”

Manziel and Evans could be in line for another good day Saturday. SMU ranks only 117th in the country in pass defense, with the Mustangs allowing 315.5 yards per game.

— Suzanne Halliburton, Austin American-Statesman

What a Heisman means

Texas A&M reported a state-record $740 million in fundraising for the past fiscal year, ending Aug. 31.

For a little perspective, the figure is almost as much as A&M raised the previous four years combined.

Now that they know what a Heisman quarterback is worth here’s the next question: How soon before the Aggies supplant the Texas Longhorns as “the” place to be on a college football Saturday in the state of Texas. (By comparison, Texas raised $453 million in the same time frame).

“People ask me all the time if you have a winning football team, do you raise more money,” Texas A&M Foundation president Ed Davis told The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. “In normal times, the statistical data wouldn’t support that. But in an era where we are … in the news everywhere and you have a young man like our quarterback who has been a media magnet and you have the success you have, I do think that euphoria does spill over into success in fundraising.”

Explaining the haul in an email to donors, John Sharp, A&M’s chancellor, credited A&M’s move to the SEC as well as a government contract to develop vaccines in College Station.

Last question: Let’s say the Aggies had moved to the SEC and it had turned out more like most of us thought it would. No 10-win season. No historic drama in Tuscaloosa. No Heisman Trophy. No Johnny Football. Would the Aggies be up to their navels in cash and pledges based on vaccine contracts?

— Kevin Sherrington, Dallas Morning News

Colorado State at Alabama, 7 p.m., ESPN2


A fifth-year senior from Brookwood High, Williams has been a bit player — until the final drive against Texas A&M when he replaced right guard Anthony Sheen and went from “watching a shootout” to being part of an “unbelievable game” with an “electric atmosphere.”

Q: What was that final drive like for you?

A: Honestly, it was one of my biggest dreams coming true, being a part of that. Being a part of that drive and scoring that touchdown, emotionally, it’s been a long time coming. A lot of hard work and a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and it was amazing to be a part of that.

Q: How do you feel about having been a reserve for most of five years?

A: It’s pretty tough, but it’s a part of being here. There are a lot of great players, and not everybody is going to get to play. When your time comes, you have to step up and perform. Just always paying attention to what’s going on because a helmet might come off or somebody might get rolled up into. You always have to be on your “A” game mentally or else you’re going to be the idiot on TV getting screamed at by Coach (Nick Saban) because you’re not paying attention to the game.

Q. What do you think when people compare you to former Tide All-American Barrett Jones because of your versatility?

A. Barrett’s a great player. That’s awesome I’m being compared, but I’m not nearly as good as Barrett. As far as my versatility goes, I’m buying into my role. Wherever the team needs me, I’ll fill in. I don’t have any preference.

— Marq Burnett, Anniston Star

Other SEC games

Vanderbilt at Massachusetts, noon, ESPNN: The Commodores (1-2) hope to get off to a good start, something that not doing has cost them in both SEC games. “We’ve got to make plays earlier in the game on offense, defense and special teams,” coach James Franklin said. “We’re a blue-collar program, and we can’t afford to give plays away. We can’t afford to give quarters away.

Troy at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m., FSSO: The Bulldogs (1-2) have a fight on their hands. Last season, Troy gained 572 yards against them, and the Trojans still have quarterback Corey Robinson, who has thrown for 11,128 career yards and 68 career touchdowns. “I think the fact we played them last year, they’re going to have confidence,” coach Dan Mullen said.

Arkansas at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m., ESPN: While everyone is talking about the Razorbacks’ rushing attack, it’s clear to at least Chris Smith that Arkansas (3-0) is much more. Smith, a senior defensive end, has 4 1/2 sacks, sharing the national lead and the defense is sixth in the nation in total defense. That gets tested by the Scarlet Knights (2-1). They gained 525 yards on Arkansas in an upset a season ago.

Missouri at Indiana, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network: Gary Pinkel spent 10 years at Toledo in the middle of Big Ten country and never got hired to coach at a league school. Missouri desperately wanted to join the Big Ten when realignment happened and were forced into the SEC. This is a chance for some minor payback for the Tigers (2-1), and the coaches know each other well. Indiana (2-0) is coached by Kevin Wilson. He and Pinkel share offensive philosophies, and both expect a shootout.

— The Associated Press

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Compiled by Ray Cox