Big Debut for Auburn's Big Quarterback

Cameron Newton produced five touchdowns in his Auburn debut as the Tigers defeated Arkansas State 52-26.

Auburn, Ala.--His teammates and coaches had been eagerly anticipating the Auburn debut of Cameron Newton. On Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium it was easy to see what the big fuss has been about concerning Auburn's big new starting quarterback.

The six-foot-six, 250-pounder transfer from junior college set an Auburn rushing record for a quarterback in one game with 171 yards on 15 carries while scoring twice, including one from 71-yards out on an improvised play. The old record was 160 by Phil Gargis vs. Georgia in 1974.

Newton's performance was just the sixth 100-yard rushing game in AU history by a quarterback.

Newton threw just 14 passes, but was productive doing it. Three of those were for touchdowns as he completed nine for 186 yards.

"I was just blessed to be in the situation to be able to make plays when it was time for me to make plays," he said. However, he noted the Tigers made too many mistakes to keep their coaches happy in the 52-26 opening night victory over Arkansas State.

Newton said the Tigers need to eliminate both physical and mental miscues as they prepare for their SEC opener on Thursday night at Mississippi State. "I feel I didn't play the best game I could have played," he said. "I just have got to watch film tomorrow and eliminate my mistakes."

Newton, who said he became more comfortable in his Auburn debut as the game went along, directed an offense that racked up 608 total yards with 367 coming on the ground including 95 on 14 carries by freshman tailback Michael Dyer.

Onterio McCalebb rushed for 76 yards on nine carries as the Tigers averaged 9.4 yards every time they snapped the football.

Arkansas State's offense had some success, too, finishing the night with 366 yards with most of the damage in the air. The Red Wolves completed 33-49 passes for 323 yards and one TD and rushed for just 43 yards on 35 carries.

ASU head coach Steve Roberts noted that he was impressed with Auburn's offense. "Auburn has a heck of a football team," he said. "You have to give them credit offensively.

"I don't know if I have see an individual performance better than Cam Newton. He is the best player I have seen live."

Cameron Newton enjoys his first Tiger Walk as an Auburn player.

One player who the 83,441 fans did not see on Saturday night was senior linebacker Craig Stevens, who had started 26 consecutive games. He and freshman cornerback Jonathon Mincy were both suspended for the game for violation of team rules. Chizik didn't give a time frame on when either one would be back.

A linebacker topped the Tigers in tackles on opening night. Daren Bates led the defense with seven solo tackles and three assists.

Aairon Savage, in his first game since 2007, was next with six solos and one assist. Zac Etheridge, another safety coming back from an injury, had three solos and one assist.

Going into the game Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said he wanted to play his backups extensively and that happened. "The thing that was encouraging tonight is we played a lot of young guys when the game was still in hand and tried to rotate our defensive linemen and get a bunch of guys in there."

Chizik said the Tigers were able to do the same thing at other positions.

The first touchdown of the season at Jordan-Hare Stadium came on the third possession as the Red Wolves used a blown coverage by the Auburn secondary to set up a touchdown pass of 10 yards from Ryan Aplin to Dwayne Frampton on third down and nine.

The touchdown was set up by a 61-yard pass play to Allen Muse that changed the field position to the AU 18. The lead was 6-0 with Mike Blanc blocking the PAT. The Tigers blocked four kicks last season.

Auburn didn't stay behind long as the Tigers raced 58 yards on just six plays to take the lead with 3:27 left in the first quarter on a three-yard head first dive into the end zone by Kodi Burns who was the wildcat quarterback. On the previous play Onterio McCalebb set up the score with a 35-yard run.

The next scoring drive was about as quick as they get. Taking over at the Arkansas State 26 after the Red Hawks had to punt out of the end zone, Mario Fannin was uncovered on the sideline in front of the student section and tip-toed in for six more points as Auburn jumped ahead 14-6 with one minute left in the first quarter.

Mario Fannin scores on a wheel route.

Auburn used its quick-strike attack to stretch the margin to 21-6 in the second quarter. Newton powered in at right guard on a two-yard run with 9:43 left in the clock for the score.

Arkansas State wasn't daunted, however, as the Red Hawks responded with a touchdown of their own. A 13-yard run at left end by Jermaine Robertson, who got by Zac Etheridge, cut the lead to 21-13.

Less than a minute later the lead was back to 15 points as Quindarius Carr ran by man coverage on the sideline and hauled in a 48-yard pass from Newton.

Both teams scored one more time before intermission. ASU drove 66 yards on 10 plays before setting for a 26-yard field goal.

Auburn took just two plays to add a touchdown on a quarterback draw by Newton. He was untouched on the play and had an escort with McCalebb running interference.

The Tigers could have added another score in the closing seconds, but ran out of time trying to get the clock stopped inside the ASU 10-yard line.

At the break the Tigers had racked up 377 yards on 32 plays with Newton completing 6-9 passes for 100 yards and two scores. On the ground the big quarterback racked 147 yards and two more scores on nine carries.

Auburn's 35 points were the most for the Tigers at halftime since scoring 35 vs Pacific in 1989.

The Tigers got the second half kickoff, but immediately gave the ball back as Demond Washington fumbled it away on the return and the visitors took over at the AU 27. It took five plays for the Red Wolves to score with Derek Lawson scoring on a run up the middle from eight yards out to cut the lead to 35-23.

The Tigers turned the ball over on their next possession, too, as Fannin fumbled it away on the first play after the kickoff at the Auburn 29 on a running play. This time the defense got tough and pushed the Red Wolves backwards as the possession ended on a fourth down and 18 play when Antoine Carter sacked Aplin.

AU's problems holding on to the ball continued as McCalebb lost the handle on the next possession. The officials ruled the play a fumble, but it was overturned after a review.

However, the Tigers finally got out of their funk later in the quarter as they moved 69 yards on four plays with Fannin catching a dump pass in the flat from Newton and running 38 yards for a TD with no Red Wolves in the area.

Auburn added a 24-yard Wes Byrum field goal on the final play of the third quarter after an ASU goal line stand to increase the lead to 45-23.

Freshman Michael Dyer scored his first college touchdown with 9:11 in the fourth quarter to cap a drive that covered 71 yards in nine plays. Dyer bulled in over center on first down and goal to go from two yards out to make the score 52-23 with 9:11 left.

The Tigers played reserves the rest of the way. ASU kicked a field goal to make the final score 52-26.

Chizik told his players to enjoy the victory on Saturday night and come back on Sunday ready to get to work as the Tigers play their SEC opener on Thursday night in Starkville vs. Mississippi State, which crushed Memphis to open the season.

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