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Tide hope to solve the riddle that is Cam Newton

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AUBURN, Ala. -- Cam Newton has made quite the impression on Auburn teammate Philip Lutzenkirchen.

Not because of his play, but the way the quarterback has handled allegations that his father, Cecil Netwon, asked for money during this recruitment.

"I'm more proud of him for how he's been handling everything off the field," Lutzenkirchen said Tuesday. "I don't know what that kid's going through. He's just done a good job of maintaining it."

Nearly unstoppable on the field and seemingly unflappable off it, Newton remains the center of attention leading up to Auburn's regular-season finale Friday at No. 9 Alabama.

He hasn't been made available to the media since Nov. 9, and coach Gene Chizik isn't answering questions on the quarterback's off-the-field issues amid allegations that his father sought $180,000 from Mississippi State boosters.

"I'm not talking about Cameron Newton unless it's got something to do with the first 11 games and his performance in those games," Chizik said.

Barring a change in Newton's playing status, the question for Nick Saban & Co. is how to solve the puzzle of trying to defend a 6-foot-6, 250-pound quarterback with nimble feet and an accurate arm.

Being in the right spot doesn't always work.

"Cam usually makes a play out of nothing," Crimson Tide linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "You would think after he does that there was three guys there, why didn't he make the play?"

Keep him from getting that forward momentum? That's an idea.

"You can't just stop him. You've got to contain him," defensive end Marcell Dareus said. "We've got to keep him east and west. It's pretty hard to do, but we're going to try to do it and buckle down."

The Tide brings a formidable group to the challenge. Alabama ranks third nationally in scoring defense and seventh in total defense. And Alabama has allowed just nine 100-yard rushers in the past 72 games dating back to 2005.

But Newton has topped 170 yards in all five games he has logged 20-plus carries, while nobody else in the country has that many 170-yard games. He's the nation's No. 9 rusher and has accounted for 39 touchdowns, more than 62 of the other 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Newton is one of three finalists announced Tuesday for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award and Maxwell Award, joining Stanford's Andrew Luck and Boise State's Kellen Moore.

"He's a great athlete," Saban said. "There's no doubt about that. You have to do a great job of tackling. He's a big guy, he's got long arms, a good stiff-arm. He has really good change of direction and has deceptive speed."

The Tide has only faced one real running threat at quarterback this season, holding Mississippi's Jeremiah Masoli to 40 yards on 10 carries.

A more accurate comparison might be Newton's former Florida teammate, Tim Tebow. The Tide faced Tebow in the past two SEC championship games, and yielded a combined 120 yards on 27 carries.

"Even though there are some similarities in some of the plays that they run, I think their style is completely different in terms of how they do those things," Saban said. "Cam's very athletic, deceptive, makes people miss, changes direction, plays with toughness. He'll put his head down on you, too. I don't like to compare players. They're both very, very good players, but to me a different style."

Newton, not Tebow, has become the first SEC quarterback with 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing in the same season.

Even former Auburn coach Pat Dye, calls him "the best football player I ever saw." And Dye coached Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson.

Newton "handles the ball 75 snaps, Bo only got it 35," Dye said. "His decision-making all enters into what I'm talking about. And he's a great competitor."

Chizik said it's "a dream" to coach a player who continues to improve and take a bigger leadership role.

"He's just gotten better in so many ways," the coach said. "The level that everybody feels like they've got to compete at, I think he's brought that up within our team because of how competitive he is. It's really been great watching him evolve the last 11 weeks."