What To Watch: Auburn vs. Wisconsin

Auburn will take on Wisconsin on New Year's Day in the Outback Bowl in Tampa.

Nick Marshall (above) and the Tigers are looking for their ninth win of the season on New Year's Day.

Final Steps Of The Marshall Plan

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall will be playing in his final college game on New Year’s Day when the Tigers take on Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl and it’s another opportunity to cement his place among the best to ever play this position on the Plains. It won’t be easy for Marshall without Duke Williams to throw to while going against one of the top statistical pass defenses in the country.

Known more as a runner last season, Marshall has developed a great deal as a passer this season with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions with 2,315 yards and a 60.7 percent completion percentage.

For his AU career Marshall has thrown for 4,291 yards, good enough for eighth in school history. His 32 touchdown passes in two seasons put him sixth all-time with his 55 total touchdowns, trailing only Pat Sullivan’s 71 and Dameyune Craig’s 58. Gus Malzahn said Marshall has been really impressive considering the last of developmental time he’s had with the Tigers.

“If you look at his whole career, last year he didn’t even go through spring,” the head coach pointed out. “He wasn’t named the starting quarterback until two weeks before our first game. He led us to the national championship (game) and really answered the bell every time he was asked, and learned the offense on the run.

“This year we really tried to be more balanced, and really worked on his passing," Malzahn said. "Obviously, our last game, with what he did against that defense, was very impressive. I’m very proud of him. He has been a very good leader for us. I think he is one of the difference makers in our league I feel like. I think offensively he’s done a great job.”

Dealing With An All-American Runner

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon is one of the top players in the country this season and has the numbers to put himself in an elite category of runners in the last decade in college football. The career leader in yards per carry in the NCAA, Gordon has shown the ability to take over a football game when he gets rolling.

Melvin Gordon was the runnerup for the 2014 Heisman Trophy and is turning pro after the Outback Bowl game.

On the other side is an Auburn defense that has been torched to finish the year. While much of that has come through the air, the Tigers were dominated in the second half by Georgia with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb running into the secondary seemingly at will on the way to a 289-yard day. Alabama added 227 yards on the ground in the Iron Bowl as well, making this matchup against the Badgers a difficult one for Auburn.

Junior Josh Holsey said it’s a chance for redemption for the defense, starting with stopping the run.

“Our whole emphasis has been getting 11 hats to the ball and making sure we run to the ball and get right pursuit angles to make sure we keep him from having one of those great games he’s had against everybody else,” Holsey said. “He has similar tactics to other guys we’ve faced. We’ve played against really good running backs like Todd Gurley and Chubb. We’ve faced a lot of good running backs and he’s just another one we’re going to have to step up to the plate and handle.”

Josh Holsey

Finish The Drill

Since the season started Malzahn and the Tigers have talked about being 13 seconds better. That opportunity isn’t available any longer with Auburn not in the college football playoffs this season with a four-loss season, but there is always a goal for Malzahn.

For the Outback Bowl that goal is a simple one for Auburn--to leave the field at Raymond James Stadium as the most improved team in the country from its final regular season game to the bowl game. Offensively, that won’t be easy after putting up 44 points against Alabama, but the defense has a very real possibility to take big strides forward against Wisconsin. Malzahn and Holsey both said that earning a win would be huge for getting a head start on the 2015 season.

“I think momentum-wise, obviously, if you win a bowl game you’ve got momentum the whole offseason,” Malzahn said. “Of course, you’re always thinking recruiting and everything that goes with it, so I think it’s very important.”

Holsey said, “It’s very important. I’m just waiting for my moment. Whenever they call my number I just try to make sure I get in and produce and do the best I can. Finishing out strong is going to be really important to make sure we end off right and send the seniors off with a win.”

Kickoff is set for shortly after 11 a.m. CST at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The Tigers are Badgers are meeting for the fourth time with the series tied at 1-1-1.

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