By PARRISH ALFORD / NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The Auburn Express just keeps rolling along, and it’s chief conductor showed Saturday night that he fires the engine in more ways than one.
Quarterback Cam Newton, the sixth-leading rusher in the nation, had a few nice runs in the second half but beat Ole Miss with his arm – and his teammates – Saturday night 51-31.
The crowd of 61,474 was the fifth-largest in Ole Miss history, but the game’s final minutes had the look of an Auburn home game.
Many Ole Miss fans departed early, no mystery to keep them there late.
Newton passed for 188 yards and a touchdown in the first half, as Auburn built a 34-17 advantage. The Tigers were almost half way to 700 yards in the first half with 348 yards of total offense. Newton hit 15 of 21 attempts, a 71 percent success rate. He attempted just three passes in the second half, hitting all three.
Auburn (9-0, 6-0 SEC) remains unbeaten and will remain No. 1 in the next release of the BCS rankings, used to determine the participants in the national championship game.
The 51 points scored were the most by an Ole Miss opponent since Arkansas scored 58 here in 2001, a 58-56 seven-overtime win for Houston Nutt with his previous team.
This time Nutt watched as his Ole Miss defense was gashed by Auburn receivers, a product of his commitment to keep Newton from running wild.
“When you go in and try to stop No. 2 from running wild, you gang up and you leave some other bases uncovered,” he said.
Newton, who also caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Kodi Burns, spread the ball around to receivers Darvin Adams, Emory Blake and Terrell Zachery, all of whom had at least five catches and 50 yards.
They were often open, Nutt said, probably as a result of his defensive backs having eyes in the wrong places because of their awareness of Newton in the run game.
“We had such an emphasis on the run. They were out of position some, and we have to play the ball better,” Nutt said.
Newton finished with 45 yards on 11 carries, well below his average of 134.6 yards per game.
His teammates had his back. Freshman Michael Dyer rushed for 180 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, and speedy Onterrio McCalebb had 99 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
Auburn finished with 572 yards.
“Every week we have to figure out what is the best thing to do to move the football,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “They did a nice job of taking Cameron away in terms of the run game, and that was their plan. We had to work other avenues, and I’m really proud of our plan.”
Ole Miss (3-5, 1-4 SEC) struck first, electrifying the crowd with Jeff Scott’s 83-yard touchdown run less than 30 seconds into the game.
Auburn answered quickly, though, tying the game on Burns’ pass to Newton to cap a six-play, 71-yard drive, then forcing a punt and taking a 14-7 lead on a 68-yard McCalebb run.
Ole Miss tied it when Jeremiah Masoli passed 29 yards to Markeith Summers, but Auburn took the lead for good on Wes Byrum’s 25-yard field goal with 14 minutes, 7 seconds left in the first half.
The Rebels had a chance to tie or lead later in the second but got nothing on a fumble recovery by Jason Jones at the Auburn 18. Two plays later, Masoli’s under-thrown pass to Summers in the end zone was picked by Demond Washington at the 2.
Washington later helped the Tigers find another gear. The Rebels were a touchdown behind at 24-17 after a 32-yard field goal by Bryson Rose, but Washington returned the ensuing kick 95 yards.
Newton was rarely pressured in the pocket, but that was part of the plan, Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said.
“Part of that was by design, not necessarily for him to have a lot of time to throw, more to keep him in the pocket because we’ve seen what he’s done to people with his legs,” he said.
Scott led Ole Miss with 134 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. The Rebels’ second-leading rusher was Brandon Bolden with 32 yards on six attempts.
Masoli was 20 for 33 passing for 189 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Ole Miss finished with 407 total yards to go with its 31 points.
“If you’d have told me we’d have that before the game, I’d have thought we’d have beaten the No. 1 team in the country, absolutely,” Nutt said.