Cam Newton steps up against LSU
AUBURN, Ala. -- How to win the Heisman Trophy, in about 30 not-so-simple steps:
Step one is actually backward. Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton plants his right foot at his 45-yard line, a yard behind where he takes the shotgun snap and fakes a handoff to Mario Fannin. Newton is loading his 6-foot-6, 250-pound body for launch into the middle of the LSU defense.
Steps two through seven are startlingly quick strides through the hole, following pulling guard Byron Isom and Fannin, both of whom scatter potential tacklers with jarring blocks. That's why the coaches say every great run begins with great blocking -- because it's true. But for every great run to become a special run, the guy carrying the ball must do something amazing on his own.
Roughly five yards into a run they'll replay for years in the Loveliest Village on the Plains, an LSU player gets a hand on Newton -- on his face mask, to be precise. Defensive tackle Lazarius Levingston reaches out while being blocked by Brandon Mosley and gets just enough of Newton's headgear to slightly redirect him away from the left hashmark.
Steps eight through 12 take Newton sideways to the right side of the field and through the flying knee-high tackle attempt of defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. The LSU freshman gives away 70 pounds to Newton, so it wasn't a fair fight, but Mathieu clips the big man just enough that he must reach down to the grass with his left hand to steady himself. A "trip drill" in football parlance.
There aren't a lot of tight end-sized players who can navigate a trip drill and, in the space of two more strides, gather himself on the right hash mark and then cut sharply back to the middle of the field. The cut leaves LSU strong safety Brandon Taylor grasping thin air.
Now, as the roar in Jordan-Hare Stadium is building, there is open field in front of Newton. In the space of eight strides and another cutback left, he has blown past flailing free safety Karnell Hatcher. Four members of the best run defense in the Southeastern Conference have had their shot at him, and all have been defeated.
"When Cam gets to the second level," Auburn coach Gene Chizik says, "he's got the ability to make a guy miss."
And some of them miss comically.
The run is almost 30 yards long before a worthy challenger presents himself. Flying in from the left is super-fast All-America cornerback Patrick Peterson, taking dead aim on Newton.
Newton sees him coming and shifts into another gear. A gear 250-pound men don't normally have. His stride lengthens as Peterson approaches. Six ground-inhaling steps take Newton from the LSU 25 to inside the 10, ruining Peterson's tackling angle.
Peterson is left with no chance but to lunge at Newton at the 10-yard line, wrapping his arms around him at the 8. For the final four steps of Newton's 49-yard third quarter journey, Peterson is a jockey on a runaway horse. He is merely along for the Heisman ride.
When he finally brings Newton to the turf, they both are in the end zone. A tour de force of speed, balance, power and vision has come to the only suitable conclusion.
There is a replay review to make sure Newton crossed the goal line before losing the ball. While the officials are taking a look at the play, even the LSU players are remarking on what No. 2 in navy blue just did to them.
"That guy's for real," one of them said to Auburn center Ryan Pugh.
By game's end, Newton will have hung 217 rushing yards on a defense that entered the game giving up 84 per game to entire teams. Auburn will rush for a staggering 440, the most in school history against an SEC opponent. And most importantly the Tigers will strut out of Jordan-Hare 8-0 after a 24-17 victory over previously unbeaten LSU, which saw its excessively long lucky streak finally tap out.
And Newton struts away from the scene as the heavy Heisman favorite.
Just as his special run Saturday began with a step backward, Newton's career did the same thing when he left Florida after being arrested and charged in connection with a stolen laptop. After a season in junior college he has come to Auburn and become a lethal weapon for creative offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
Newton has run for 1,077 yards -- just the second SEC quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 -- and 14 touchdowns. He's thrown for 1,364 yards and 13 touchdowns.
He is a dazzling combination of talents. The size and speed are obvious. But add to it an innate feel for picking his holes, and fastidious care of the football. He's carried it 157 times this season and only dropped it twice -- and both fumbles were recovered by Auburn.
"Every week, Cam seems to be playing better," Chizik said.
With his steadily improving play has come a steady escalation of his leadership role.
"He's really become more vocal," Isom said. "He's really like almost a coach on the field."
After Newton softened up the LSU defense for 55 minutes, he let running back Onterio McCalebb deliver the knockout. It was McCalebb who broke a 70-yard run for the winning touchdown.
Newton was so excited about that development that he delivered a solid chest bump to the 171-pound running back. As usual, Newton won the collision. McCalebb wound up on his back.
"My adrenaline was pumping," Newton said with a shrug.
It kept pumping after the game, when he leaped over the brick wall behind the end zone and into the student seats. He's a super hero here, single-handedly boosting sales of the toilet paper they use to cover the trees at Toomer's Corner after every victory.
And now he has a signature play for all those fans to relive for years to come.
"Just a play that's in my job description to make," he said with a smile.
It's in a Heisman Trophy favorite's job description, that's for sure.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.