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Newton turbocharges Auburn's running game

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn's Cam Newton has already one-upped Tim Tebow and every other running Southeastern Conference quarterback.

He has also turbocharged the third-ranked Tigers' running game and helped them ride video game-like numbers into national title contention. No Auburn team had ever rushed for 440 yards against an SEC team, like Cam & Co. did in Saturday's 24-17 win over LSU.

Not even with superstar runners like Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson or tandems like Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, all top-5 NFL draft picks.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik didn't even bother trying to quantify the team's performance. "The numbers speak for themselves," he said.

And they speak with the same volume that Auburn's euphoric fans are creating at games these days. Auburn (8-0, 5-0) sports the league's only perfect record going into Saturday's visit to Mississippi.

LSU came in allowing just 83.6 yards rushing and 242 overall, both league-bests, and the visiting Tigers (7-1, 4-1) left town ranked seventh against the run.

Newton alone went for 217 yards, including a powerful 1-yard touchdown and nifty 49-yarder. His zigzagging, power-punctuated long TD led CBS announcer Gary Danielson to proclaim: "That was a Heisman run, if I've ever seen one."

"We did a poor job of tackling him, and that's a pretty good quarterback who was breaking a lot of tackles," LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "We weren't out there tackling the way we wanted to and the way we needed to, and that showed up on the stats."

Even with tackle Nick Fairley and the defense rebounding nicely after getting picked apart by Arkansas, the most obvious reason for Auburn's rise is the Newton-led running game.

He appears to be running closer toward his own Heisman, passing up three other winners of the coveted trophy on Saturday in the record books.

--With one-third of the season left, he's already run for 1,077 yards, more than any other SEC quarterback in a season. Even Tebow's career-best total at Florida was 910 yards last year.

--Newton passed up Auburn's Pat Sullivan single-season school mark with touchdowns 26 and 27.

--He has 603 yards rushing in the past three games, breaking Jackson's record of 570 in 1983 against Florida (196), Georgia (118) and Alabama (256).

Chizik said Newton is worthy of the Heisman attention.

"Do we have a guy that warrants that? Absolutely," he said Sunday. "There's no question about it. The best thing we can do as a coaching staff is give him a chance every week with what we're doing with him in the gameplan to let him continue to put these numbers up. To me it is a team award."

It led LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to call Newton "the best quarterback in the country." LSU coach Les Miles wasn't pleased with his defenders' approach to bringing down the 6-foot-6, 250-pounder.

"We just tackled him high," Miles said. "We worked in practice at tackling him low and wrapping him up. There's a want in every football player to take someone on and that's what we did. Sometimes when that person is 250 pounds, it can be a little much."

Auburn, which moved up two spots in the Top 25, is now fourth nationally in rush offense at 303.3 yards per game -- outgaining No. 2 Mississippi State by nearly 600 and within 350 yards of last year's 13-game total.

It's not just about Newton. Tailbacks Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb combined for 184 yards against LSU, and the offensive line starts four seniors.

"I just don't want to lose sight of the fact that our offensive line has become a really good offensive line," Chizik said. "From left tackle to right tackle, those guys have played every snap now for eight games. They're beat up, they're tired.

"They get beat up during the game, they find a way to continue to press on and everything starts with those guys up front."

The linemen aren't alone in making key blocks. McCalebb scored the decisive touchdown on a 70-yard run with 5:05 left in the third quarter, springing loose with help from blocks by receivers Kodi Burns, Terrell Zachery and Emory Blake.

"That's what makes a team in my opinion," Chizik said. "I think it's all working together and we're getting better."

The power running game was key when Auburn was twice buried at its own 1 on punts by Derek Helton or Josh Jasper.

The first time, Auburn ran on 11 consecutive plays in the second quarter, though Wes Byrum missed a 39-yard field goal. Auburn had seven rushes to start another drive that carried over into the fourth before forced to punt with a third-down sack.

"We kept letting them out," Miles said. "Every time Cam Newton dropped back he'd end up scrambling and he can run with a lot of power. The passing game is not what beat us, it was Cam Newton's ability to run."