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Eliminating fumbles a focal point for Auburn’s Marshall

Missouri defensive lineman Matt Hoch recovers a fumble by Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall during the SEC Championship game. (Reuters)

Missouri defensive lineman Matt Hoch recovers a fumble by Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall during the SEC Championship game. (Reuters)

AUBURN, Ala. — Ever since the SEC Championship game, Nick Marshall has been emphasizing ball security.

The Auburn quarterback fumbled the ball three times against Missouri two weeks ago in Atlanta, losing it twice. On both occasions Marshall lost the ball, he was inside Auburn territory and it led directly to 10 points for Mizzou.

“I work on ball security every day, ever since the SEC Championship,” said Marshall, who had 101 yards rushing and a touchdown in the SEC title game. “I carry around a ball during practice, just keeping it tucked tight, just hoping I won’t be fumbling the ball like I did in the SEC Championship.”

It’s not a new problem for Marshall. The junior college transfer recovered his own fumble against Alabama and Georgia as well.

Offensive graduate assistant Kodi Burns, the former Auburn quarterback, has been tasked with making sure Marshall does not fumble during practice.

“If he sees me having (the ball) not tucked tight he’ll try to sneak up on me and knock it out,” Marshall said. “If he knocks it out, it’s like 10-20 up-downs (as a penalty).

“He helped me a lot with ball security. And coming in this summer, sometimes I would go in and watch film with him and he’d tell me the basis of the play, or where the read is going. He helped me with coverages, too.”

Marshall’s playmaking as a runner has been a crucial part to Auburn’s success as the season has gone on.

He has 1,023 yards rushing with 11 touchdowns and his yards per carry more than doubled from 3.61 in the first four games of the season to 7.61 in the nine games since, in which he scored all of his touchdowns.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has repeatedly said what makes Marshall a special player is his ability when a play breaks down, but the double-edge sword has come when Marshall is not securing the ball in those situations.

“That’s what we’re focusing on. We’ve got to protect the football,” Malzahn said.

Of course that’s where it starts — with the quarterback. (Offensive coordinator Rhett) Lashlee’s on top of that. I really believe we’ll get that correct.”

Though certainly not all of Auburn’s fumbles are Marshall’s fault, the Tigers have had 28 fumbles and lost 11 this season. By contrast, top-ranked Florida State has lost four of 11 fumbles, Alabama has lost seven of 11 and Missouri lost six of 12.

“As a quarterback, if the pocket breaks down the natural thing to do is drop the ball and run one-handed,” Marshall said. “I’ve just got to train myself to keep two hands on the ball.”