Cameron Newton leads Auburn rally
AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton gave a performance Saturday worthy of the greats of another era.[+] EnlargeMarvin Gentry/US PresswireCam Newton carried Auburn past Georgia, rushing for two scores and throwing for two more.
Before the game against Georgia, Newton emerged from the tunnel in the south end zone and ran the length of the field, imploring a sold-out Jordan-Hare Stadium to make noise.
Once the game began, Newton ran and passed for 299 yards and four touchdowns, leading the No. 2 Tigers to a 49-31 defeat of the Dawgs that clinched the SEC Western Division championship.
After the game ended, Newton climbed into the stands and stood before the Auburn band, dancing and preening as it played a joyous version of the fight song. Then he skipped over to the student section in the south end zone. When the band began to play "Lean on Me," Newton threw his head back, with a 1,000-watt smile on his face, and screamed.
He did all of that without saying a word, which is exactly what happened when he took off his uniform, too. Newton did not speak to the media, which means the greats of another era that he most resembled were Valentino, Chaplin or Fairbanks -- the silent era.
Oh, Auburn distributed quotes from Newton about becoming the first quarterback in SEC history to pass for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 yards in a single season, and on winning the West, and on an offense that scored seven touchdowns and punted but twice.
But there is nothing from Newton about playing so well after the tumult of the past week. He has been at the center of a national controversy regarding his recruitment last year out of Blinn College, a junior college in Texas. Newton's father has been accused of asking Mississippi State for six figures of improper benefits.
"I don't remember a week quite like this one," said Paul Finebaum, the columnist, radio host and the most prominent voice in Alabama sports opinion for the past two decades.
Newton treated the whole affair swirling around him and his father as though it were just another opposing defense. He stepped around it. He didn't let it get to him. And Auburn won the game just as it won the 10 that came before it.
After trying to defend Newton for a week, Auburn adopted a "No comment" stance regarding all queries about Newton up to and including whether he would play Saturday. "No comment" can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and in this case, coming after Cecil Newton was accused of shopping his son to Mississippi State for up to $180,000, it was.
However, all Auburn meant by "No comment" was that the university decided to stop reacting to every story, rumor or tweet about its quarterback. Auburn coach Gene Chizik stuck to that stance after the game that evened up his career record at 24-24.[+] EnlargeKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNewton celebrated with Tigers fans after clinching the SEC West.
"Let me just say this up front," Chizik said. "Any questions I entertain about Cameron Newton will only be solely be pertaining to the game he just played in. I'm very proud of him and his performance."
Someone asked Chizik about Newton's ability to focus this week.
"The only thing I can tell you is by his performance, he's done just about what he's done in every other game this year," Chizik said.
Newton emerged from the tunnel behind the south goal posts about 1:45 p.m. He handed off to his running backs. He made option pitches to them. He threw passes. He stretched. Shortly after 2 p.m., public-address announcer Ric Smith began announcing the Auburn starting lineup. He saved the best player for last. When he got to "No. 2," the roar of the crowd drowned out the rest.
"It's good that our fans are that supportive, even with all the negative stuff that's been happening," wide receiver Emory Blake said. "It's real good to see."
Newton finished with 30 rushes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. He completed 12 of 15 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns. About the three incompletions: Newton threw one away, Mario Fannin dropped one and the third went through Blake's hands and right to Georgia free safety Bacarri Rambo, who returned the interception 25 yards to the Auburn 9. The Bulldogs scored on the next play.
"It made me sick to my stomach," Blake said. "First thing Cam said when we came back to the sideline was, 'Forget it. I'm coming right back to you.' And he did, on a critical third down in the red zone. I made the catch."
It was a second-and-5 at the Georgia 30, and Blake made it a 26-yard gain, but never mind. The point is, Newton never blinked.
"Cam enters every game the same way," Blake said. "I don't think he was any different."
Newton didn't blink when Auburn fell behind 21-7 in the first quarter, the third time it has trailed at home by at least 13 points this season. The Tigers have the ability to run or pass as needed. They have the ability to score as needed, too, which has been a good thing with their defense.
"I think he's going to play a long, long time and make a lotta, lotta money," Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof said.
This Auburn defense has allowed at least 31 points in four of the Tigers' past six games and did so Saturday against a team that fell to 5-6. If physical fatigue may be blamed, there is a reprieve. Auburn gets a bye after 11 straight games.
Mental fatigue may leave a more lasting bruise. In a game marred by nine personal fouls and six other major infractions, the officials ejected two Auburn defenders, end Michael Goggans and tackle Mike Blanc, for throwing punches late in the fourth quarter. Goggans and Blanc will have to sit out the first half of the Alabama game per NCAA rules. Roof winced at the thought of playing without them.
"You want to take a full complement of your folks into every football game," Roof said. "Certainly it's the biggest football game of the year for us. But it is what is. You move forward. Hang together and move forward. That's what we do."
The Alabama game may reveal whether Auburn is a great team or just a good team led by a great player. If Saturday is any indication, the latter is true. Newton held up his end of the deal. Under the hottest of spotlights, Newton proved again what he has proved every game this season -- he is the best player in the country.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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