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Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010

Auburn shrugs off No. 1 curse to beat Ole Miss

- abitter@ledger-enquirer.com
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OXFORD, Miss. — The Bowl Championship Series’ No. 1 team certainly looked the part Saturday night.

Auburn showed no letdown in a 51-31 win at Mississippi, six days after rising to the top spot in the BCS rankings for the first time in school history.

The Tigers (9-0, 6-0 SEC) avoided the top-ranked curse, doing what Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma couldn’t in the past three weeks — win a conference road game with a No. 1 ranking next to their school’s name.

“We plugged our ears to the media when it came to every week the No. 1 team has fallen short of a victory,” quarterback Cam Newton said.

On a day when Michigan State and Missouri fell from the ranks of the unbeatens, Auburn had no such trouble, building an insurmountable lead to silence the 61,474 in attendance at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the fifth-largest crowd in Mississippi history.

Newton showed off his passing chops (and his potential as a 6-foot-6 receiver), the Tigers scored on several explosive plays, and the defense did a serviceable job of containing Rebels quarterback Jeremiah Masoli in a runaway win that should silence some of Auburn’s critics.

“I don’t know what they’re going to see when they watch us,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “But we’ve got a good football team.”

Auburn finished with 572 yards of offense and 51 points, the most it has scored against Mississippi.

“For us, that’s not much of a shock,” Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “It probably is for the outside world.”

The Rebels devoted their resources to stopping Newton, the SEC’s leading rusher, from beating them with his legs. He did it with his arm instead.

After showing off his receiving skills with an athletic 20-yard touchdown catch on a fade pattern in the first quarter, the Heisman Trophy candidate threw for 188 of his 209 yards in the first half. Newton completed a season-high 18 of 24 passes, spreading the ball around.

Often forgotten receivers Darvin Adams, Emory Blake and Terrell Zachery combined for 16 catches, 189 yards and two touchdowns.

“I think it is good, because I hear a lot of people say that we’re a one-dimensional team and all we can do is run the ball,” Blake said. “But we’re aware we have talent on the perimeter, and we know what our ability is.”

The Tigers took a 34-17 lead into halftime, getting a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Demond Washington and a 35-yard field goal from Wes Byrum in the final 2 1/2 minutes.

They switched gears in the second half to put away Mississippi (4-4, 1-4). Auburn got 203 of its 343 rushing yards in the second half, topping the 300-yard mark for the fifth straight SEC game.

“You rush for the yards that we rush for in this league, your offensive line has to be doing some great things,” Malzahn said.

Freshman tailback Mike Dyer continued to establish himself as the Tigers’ go-to back, rushing 21 times for a career-high 180 yards and a touchdown.

“Mike seemed to be the catalyst tonight,” Chizik said.

Onterio McCalebb added 99 yards, 68 coming on a first-quarter touchdown run, and Newton, who had 4 rushing yards by the half, finished with 45 in his lightest rushing load in weeks.

Although the Tigers allowed 31 points — the sixth time they have allowed 24 or more in a game this year — they generally corralled Masoli, a dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the same vein as Newton. The senior threw for 189 yards and a touchdown, but Auburn limited him to 29 rushing yards on 14 carries.

Auburn’s defense shut down any comeback thoughts, holding the Rebels to no yards in six plays on their first two second-half drives.

The Tigers got a 30-yard touchdown run from Dyer and a season-long 48-yard field goal from Byrum to start the second half, putting the game out of reach at 44-17.

The win puts Auburn a step closer to its goal of winning the SEC West and possibly more.

The Tigers have at least one backer on the Mississippi sideline. After the game, a Rebels assistant approached Newton with a simple request: “Go win it all.”

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