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Monday, Sep. 27, 2010

Auburn football: Newton garnering Heisman talk

Accounts for 62.4 percent of Auburn’s offense

- abitter@ledger-enquirer.com
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AUBURN, Ala. — Through four weeks, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton has numbers worthy of being a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Does that make him one?

“He’s probably the best player on one of the best teams in the country,” Tigers tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. “So I think he should be up for it.”

It might not be too early to start the discussion. Newton, who was named Rivals.com’s National Player of the Week, is sure to pop up on more Heisman radars after his second five-touchdown performance this season in Auburn’s 35-27 win against South Carolina on Saturday.

He ran for 176 yards against the Gamecocks and threw for 158 as Auburn leaped into the Associated Press top-10 for the first time in two years.

“I’m not going to act like I’m an expert on that, but I think his numbers certainly grab people’s attention,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “I don’t know where they’ll go with that, but I think he’s played really well. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. But the people who make that decision won’t be me.”

The numbers are eye-popping. In four games, Newton …

• Leads the SEC in rushing, averaging 121.3 yards per game, a number that ranks him 11th nationally (and third among quarterbacks).

• Leads the league and is fourth nationally in pass efficiency (182.46).

• Is second in the SEC and 18th nationally in total offense (292.0 ypg).

• Has accounted for 14 touchdowns (9 passing, 5 running), becoming the first Auburn quarterback to throw at least two touchdowns in each of his first four games.

Newton said he’s not thinking about any awards.

“Oh, my goodness, no,” he said. “I’m just going to continue to do my job. I’m not going to think about that right now because I think that would be selfish of me.

“A speaker came and talked to us one day, past player, and said take one day at a time, take one play at a time, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

If Newton continues to be the focal point of the Auburn’s offense — and the Tigers put up numbers like they have in 17 games under offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn — the situation might take care of itself.

Auburn has 1,872 yards of total offense this year. Newton has accounted 62.4 percent of that (683 passing, 485 rushing).

He’s been especially effective as the primary ballcarrier in the SEC’s leading rushing attack. Newton’s 75 carries are the fourth-most in the league, and while coaches want to protect his body, they’re not going to keep him in a glass case.

“He’s a threat. And we’ve got to use him as a threat,” Chizik said. “We’re just learning more as we go each week what we can and can’t do with him. It’s obvious that he’s a threat in the backfield and that people are going to have to respect that. That’ll be part of our plan.”

Newton might have had his Heisman-worthy highlight Saturday night. He kept the ball on a zone read in the first quarter, juked a defender at the line and cut to the outside, running away from the South Carolina defense up the sideline for 54 yards.

When Newton got to the 7-yard line, he dove toward the end zone, extending the ball out in a Superman pose to get across the goal line as defenders closed the distance.

The move thrilled the near capacity Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd but not Malzahn, who didn’t want him landing on his shoulder.

As for the distance, Newton never thought he’d come up short.

“That would have been embarrassing,” he said. “But no, I think my momentum was enough that I could have taken off from the 10 if I thought I could make it.”

Consider the idea a future Heisman highlight.

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