TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There have been 11 different opportunities for someone to stop Cam Newton this fall.
Do the math and that leaves 11 options that didn’t work. Each time, Auburn’s Heisman Trophy candidate found a way to outfox the best efforts to thwart his threat to run or pass all over the opposing defense.
Even Mark Ingram -- the 2009 stiff-armed trophy winner -- found himself neutralized a few times last season. But with Newton, nothing has worked.
LSU’s Les Miles suggested using an invisible player before Newton ran for 217 yards on the Tigers’ highly-regarded defense.
“You have to do a great job of tackling,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He’s a big guy. He’s got long arms. He’s got a good stiff arm. He’s really good at changing direction and has deceptive speed. I think when they spread you out on the field and he scrambles or even when he’s running one of his set running plays, you have to do a good job of tackling; you have to a good job of leveraging and tackling.”
It’ll also take plenty of discipline since Newton can beat you with his arm as well as his legs. When Ole Miss limited his running to 45 yards on 11 carries, he threw for 209 yards on 18-for-24 passing including two touchdown passes. He even caught a touchdown pass in a wrinkle that Alabama can only anticipate will be part of the game plan at 1:30 p.m. Friday when the Tigers come to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the Iron Bowl.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn pulled a few rabbits from his hat a year ago when the Tigers jumped out to a surprising 14-0 lead on the Tide.
Preparing for the unexpected isn’t the easiest of practice drills, so Alabama’s done its best to familiarize itself with the basics. When it had a bye three weeks ago, it look at some of the principles of the Auburn offense by using former high school quarterback and true freshman defensive back Blake Sims as Newton’s body double.
“We weren’t all about Auburn or all about any other team that we had to face in the future,” safety Robert Lester said. “We pretty much were just looking at some of the things they like to do. We didn’t go out and practice a full day on them. We would look at them for a period or two, just to make sure that whenever we get to Auburn week, that the things they are doing aren’t new to us.”
Standing six inches shorter and 55 pounds lighter, Sims won’t likely pass for Newton otherwise. But he ran an offense similar to Auburn’s in high school.
“Blake is not the same size, but he’s a real elusive guy,” Tide safety Mark Barron said.
Besides Ole Miss, the only other SEC school to hold Newton below the 100-yard rushing mark was Mississippi State back in Week 2. The Bulldogs achieved that, in part, by limited third-down conversions to a near-season-low 42 percent.
In the 11 games combined, Auburn’s 53.3 percent third-down conversion rate leads the conference, so limiting that is a priority for Alabama, who limits the opposition to 34-percent success rate to rank second in the SEC.
“One of the reasons they’re very, very good on third down is they do a good job of managing the down and distance so they don’t get a whole bunch of third-and-longs,” Saban said. “They’re not afraid to run the ball when it’s third-and-five or less. They’re very athletic at quarterback so sometimes even when the defense sort of gets everyone covered, they still convert third downs with the scramble or him actually scrambling to make a throw or actually running for a first down. That’s a real bonus.”