AUBURN, Ala. – Far from the glare of scandal and a harsh national spotlight, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was back amongst his people Saturday afternoon.
Quarterback Cam Newton rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns to lead Auburn past Georgia and into the SEC championship game. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)
And there was still no stopping him.
Newton lived up to his Heisman Trophy-candidate billing, rushing and throwing for nearly 300 yards as second-ranked Auburn locked up the SEC West title by beating Georgia 49-31 before a roaring crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Despite rampant pregame questions about his eligibility, Newton played and helped the Tigers (11-0, 7-0 SEC) overcome an early 21-7 point deficit with touchdowns on their final five possessions. Newton only threw 15 passes, but he ran 30 times, proving to be too much for an overmatched defense that ran out of answers for the Bulldogs (5-6, 3-5).
“We just couldn’t stop them,” UGA coach Mark Richt said. “That was the biggest difference. We didn’t continue to score, and that’s all there is to it. It’s very difficult to stop a quarterback who can run like that.”
After allowing an Auburn touchdown on the opening possession, Georgia punched back, scoring three touchdowns before the end of the first quarter. But the Tigers fought to tie the score at 21 by halftime and then pulled off the play of the day, recovering an onsides kick to open the second half.
With momentum on its side, Auburn didn’t lose it again. Newton was ruthlessly effective. Though he longest run of the game was 31 yards, he averaged five yards on his 30 rushing attempts, many of them for key first downs.
“That’s a player,” UGA receiver A.J. Green said of Newton. “I haven’t seen a quarterback like that since Vince Young.”
“To be honest, I don’t think (anyone can stop him),” Bulldogs safety Bacarri Rambo said. “The way his body is made, he’s made for stuff like that. He’s going to pound it, pound it. You can’t hit him up. It’s like his body is made for the type of contact. He’s very tough to defend. … I know that whole defense was trying our best to contain that guy.”
Georgia's defense prepared all week for Newton, though Richt said he wasn't 100 percent sure Auburn's star would play.
Said UGA defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, "I kind of figured he was going to play."
"It basically got down to gadget plays," Grantham said. "... I thought we settled down and played their basic runs pretty much OK. The biggest issue in the second half was what I call gadget plays. They ran basically two reverses for big gains in the second half. You've got to be able to defend all kinds of runs."
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray completed 15-of-28 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns, all of them in the first quarter. Green caught nine passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns, both of them in the first quarter.
“We certainly had our moments,” Richt said, “but not enough to finish.”
Auburn’s 463 total yards were the most Georgia’s defense has allowed all season. Not only did the Tigers convert 10-of-14 third down offensively, they amassed an 8:30 advantage in time of possession, a stat in which the Bulldogs led the SEC entering Saturday’s game.
The Bulldogs’ defense was beaten up by the onslaught of long drives and running plays. Cornerback Sanders Commings hurt his ankle and needed crutches to return to the locker room. Defensive end Demarcus Dobbs departed and returned with a minor injury. Same goes for nose guard DeAngelo Tyson.
Cornerback Brandon Boykin had a bloodied lip after the game.
“We were on the field a long time, but that’s what happens when you play good offenses,” Boykin said. “I don’t think anybody was wearing down. It’s just a matter of us not making plays. Third downs killed us.”
The emotion of the game spilled over into the final minutes, when Auburn had two players ejected and Richt chose to just down the football and run out the clock in an attempt to avoid an all-out brawl that appeared to be brewing between the rival teams.
When it ended, Newton blew kisses to a celebrating crowd as an electronic banner flashed in the stadium: “2010 SEC Western Division Champions.”
Meanwhile, Georgia enters its first bye week of the season needing to beat Georgia Tech on Nov. 27 to reach six wins and guarantee a bid to a bowl game.
“We’ve played extremely hard, but again, we’re not getting the results,” Richt said. “Football is a bottom-line game, and bottom-line, we’re 5-6 right now.”