Resilient Newton, Tigers roar past South Carolina
ATLANTA — Cam Newton left nothing to chance. He ran and passed the Auburn Tigers to a shot at the national championship they were denied six years ago, and he might as well start working on that Heisman pose, too.
Newton passed for a career-high 335 yards and four touchdowns, plus ran for a pair of TDs in an MVP performance that led No. 2 Auburn to the Southeastern Conference championship with a 56-17 rout of Steve Spurrier and No. 18 South Carolina yesterday.
The Tigers, who came into the day sitting atop the Bowl Championship Series standings, must wait 24 hours before getting the official word, but it’s nothing more than a formality: They’ll be playing Oregon for the national title Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
Before the national title is decided, Newton will likely be picking up the college game’s top individual honor when the Heisman Trophy is awarded next weekend in New York City — especially since he was cleared of wrongdoing by the NCAA in a pay-for-play scandal.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Newton is the best college player he’s ever seen. That includes Vince Young, who was at Texas when Chizik was the Longhorns’ defensive coordinator.
“When you look at the 13-game span, I’ve never seen anything like it,’’ Chizik said. “It’s running the ball. It’s throwing the ball. Usually great quarterbacks do one or the other better. What God has blessed Cameron with is the ability to be really, really good at both.’’
Hard to imagine the Heisman vote even being close after the 6-foot-6-inch, 250-pound junior followed Tim Tebow as only the second player in the history of football’s top division to run and pass for 20 touchdowns in a season. He slipped away from defenders with his quickness, buying extra time to throw. He broke tackles with his power, not at all shocking given that he outweighed all three of South Carolina’s starting linebackers by at least 25 pounds.
“You can’t tackle him,’’ said Spurrier, who was denied his seventh SEC title. “He’s almost a one-man show but those guys really help and their receivers are really good. With that offensive line and him, it’s hard to stop him.’’
Newton guided the Tigers (13-0) to touchdowns on their first three possessions, though South Carolina (9-4) was in the game as halftime approached. Trailing only 21-14, the Gamecocks simply had to knock down Newton’s last-gasp heave on the final play before the break. They couldn’t even do that.
Newton launched one up and 6-2 DeVonte Holloman, standing in front of Terrell Zachery, leaped to tip it away. But the deflected ball went right to Darvin Adams for an improbable 51-yard touchdown that changed the complexion of the game. After South Carolina missed a field goal on the first possession of the second half, it was all Tigers.
While many will surely consider any title to be tainted because of Newton’s father seeking illegal payments during the recruiting process, the Tigers can counter that this makes up for the 2004 season. Auburn went 13-0 that year but didn’t get a chance to play for the national title.
Newton spoke with the media for the first time in nearly a month, but he refused to take questions about the allegations that threatened to wreck his glorious ride. The NCAA ruled that his father, Cecil, concocted a pay-for-play scheme for his son to sign with Mississippi State, but ruled that neither Cam nor Auburn knew anything about it.
“I’ve done nothing wrong,’’ Newton said, reading from a statement. “I will only answer questions about football and this game. I ask that you respect that.’’