OXFORD, Miss. — The quarterback who had the reputation as a runner showed he could pass, and the so-called one-man football team showed it has plenty of options to attack the unsuspecting and defensively challenged.
Auburn, playing as the No. 1 team for the first time in 25 years, overwhelmed Ole Miss 51-31 Saturday night in front of 61,474 fans in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with a change-of-pace attack from quarterback Cam Newton that produced another runaway offensive performance in the Tigers’ surprising season.
The so-called No. 1 jinx that had seen Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma fall in successive weeks couldn’t catch Auburn. The Tigers rolled up 572 yards and had their easiest game of the year against an SEC team, maybe against any team.
Auburn shrugged off the jinx while improving to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the Southeastern Conference for the first time since 2004. Ole Miss, falling to 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the league, was just like the jinx.
It didn’t have much of an answer.
“I don’t know what it says about our team, other than our team in focused and ready to move on,” said coach Gene Chizik. “We’re not trying to make statements…we have another challenge coming up Saturday.”
Auburn tailback Mike Dyer goes for some of his 180 yards #Birmingham News / Hal Yeager#
That’s been Chizik’s attitude all season, and it has filtered down to his players.
“We plugged our ears to the media that every week the No. 1 team had fallen short of victory,” said Newton, the undisputed offensive leader who changed gears by throwing two touchdown passes, by catching a 20-yard touchdown pass from Kodi Burns and by sharing the ball with two tailbacks who combined for 279 yards.
Chizik said the Tigers were happy to adjust to the Ole Miss defense.
“Tonight they did a nice job of taking Cameron away, and we had to work other avenues,” Chizik said. “We’re finding facets when things aren’t going well. We’re finding other ways.”
Auburn set the change in strategy early. Newton’s first run from scrimmage came 13 minutes in the game. Ole Miss didn’t let him run on his otherwise successful read option.
“They were giving us the pass and I thought Cameron did a nice job and the receivers did a nice job,” said offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. “They were making him throw the football. We’ve been saying all along we have other guys who can do a solid job, and they did that tonight.”
Ole Miss scored first, but Auburn led at all the important stops, including a 34-17 halftime advantage and a 44-17 lead after three quarters.