Cam Newton is excited by future possibilities, but nothing keeps him grounded in the present like his immediate past.
Unbeaten Auburn visits Ole Miss on Saturday evening ranked No. 3 in both major polls but No. 1 where it matters most – the BCS standings.
The Tigers (8-0, 5-0 SEC) control their own destiny in the race for the national championship game, and Newton likely controls his destiny in the race for the Heisman Trophy.
Just last year Newton was at Blinn College, a junior college where he could have been described as “over-employed” had he been on the school payroll.
It was not his chosen career path. Southeast Texas was where he landed after leaving the University of Florida following his arrest on a theft charge involving a laptop computer.
Newton signed with the Gators to be Tim Tebow’s successor. Instead he found himself frustrated with life, trying to fit temporarily in coach Brad Franchione’s program at Blinn.
“I was questioning Coach Fran, questioning why I was there,” Newton recalls. “I constantly remind myself where I came from. Times like that keep me humble and grounded right now.”
In Newton’s return to big-time football he’s put up numbers that would allow him to abandon humility.
The sixth-leading rusher in the nation, Newton, with 1,077 yards, has already broken the SEC single-season rushing record for quarterbacks.
At 6-6, 250 he outweighs the heaviest Ole Miss cornerback by 62 pounds and will have a size advantage of 20-plus pounds against any Ole Miss defender that might approach him once he breaks past the line of scrimmage.
Long on confidence, short on fear, Newton’s greatest concern is being caught from behind not being stopped from ahead.
“I don’t consider myself fast. I just consider myself don’t want to get caught. I would just hate to get caught in the open field. That would be shameful,” Newton said.
The challenge facing Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix is to limit Newton’s visits to the open field.
Finding another gear
Perhaps the most impressive numbers for Newton are not the sum of all parts but the pieces within. He opened with a bang against Arkansas State with 171 yards and two scores but was less dominant at Mississippi State with 70 yards and at home against Clemson with 68.
He has since found another gear.
In the season’s fourth game, a 35-27 win over South Carolina, Newton had 178 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. Throwing out a 52-3 win over Louisiana-Monroe, in which he was instructed not to run, and the South Carolina game from a rushing standpoint is Newton’s least productive in a four-game stretch against SEC foes in which he’s totaled 779 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“He doesn’t look like he takes many hits. He’s so big, but he gets low. He tries to punish people. I saw him try to run over a linebacker, and he’s won his fair share,” Nix said.
The Rebels were winning some battles prior to last week’s 38-24 loss at Arkansas when they took a backward step in rushing defense with 197 yards allowed to what was then the SEC’s last-place rushing team. Arkansas began the day after 113.7 yards on the ground.
As Newton began stacking monster performances on top of one another, many were waiting to see how he might handle an LSU defense ranked sixth in the nation against the run. Newton had his best game yet, 217 yards, and Auburn ran for 440 yards as a team.
Ole Miss has gotten its scout-team quarterback look this week from Randall Mackey (6-0, 190), who has the escapability down but could have used a few pillows under his shirt to truly emulate Newton.
“We have to out-physical him and not miss tackles,” Ole Miss defensive lineman Jerrell Powe said. “We have to hit him low and wrap up.”
And hope that Newton falls short of his individual goal for the week – improvement.
“There are a lot of things I can work on. The reads I make can be more precise,” Newton says. “I’m not satisfied with my performance. I get away with a lot of things that people don’t see.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal