BATON ROUGE --- With the week eight hype around dual-threat quarterback and Heisman candidate Cam Newton, you would think the Auburn signal caller leads the SEC in passing efficiency (he does) and rushing (he does).
With the way the LSU defense harped on his name before and after practice on Monday, it goes without saying that this week is as much about stopping Cam Newton as it is about stumping offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
“He puts anybody in a bind,” said senior linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. “He’s a great player with tremendous talent.”
The praise didn’t stop there.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson called Newton one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks he has ever seen on film, drawing comparisons to 6-foot-3, 225-pounder Ryan Perrilloux, a former LSU quarterback turned dismissed talent.
“He gets carries like a running back and can throw like a quarterback,” Peterson said.
Another popular name for comparison: 6-foot-6, 238-pound Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who the Tigers bested in a comeback win in Baton Rouge last November.
Speaking on size, Mallett and Newton are nearly identical.
Speaking on talent, Newton’s game takes off in a different direction – making this weekend all the more difficult for linebackers like Sheppard.
“Mallett is a pocket passer, and Cam Newton is a dual-threat,” he said. “A 6-foot-6, 250-pound quarterback is hard to stop. I see the highlights and he is always on them every Saturday.
“To be able to move like he does, that’s all you need to say. I have never played against anyone like him. The only person you could compare to him would be (Ohio State quarterback) Terrell Pryor.”
How to stop – or at least slow – Newton, a player that Miles admits he can’t replicate when it comes to the week’s scout team quarterback?
For one, don’t count on defensive coordinator John Chavis to assign just one man to the task.
“In this league I doubt any coordinator would tell their defensive guys to just spy one guy,” Sheppard said. “When you do, it takes you out of your scheme by assigning a player to one person on the team. That opens up a lot of holes on your defense.”
Instead the approach is to bring pressure (lots of it) - then make sure that all 11 guys get to the ball.
“I am going to hit him and hope the other 10 guys hurry up and help me get that tree down,” Peterson said. “You definitely can’t hit that guy high. You have to roll-tackle.”
Another key word: unpredictability.
“If he knows you are dropping back, he’s going to take off running and beat you all day with his legs,” Sheppard said. “If you show you are coming up, he will give you a little play action and throw it. You have to be unpredictable.”
If Newton gets outside and to the next level, watch out. A quick-mover in the open field, the junior transfer has an uncanny ability to use his size when punishing opponents. During a 25-carry, 188-yard effort against the Razorbacks last Saturday, Newton’s knack for laying the final hit shined through to LSU starting safety Brandon Taylor.
“I have seen what he does to defensive backs, and that’s very intimidating,” Taylor said. “I like to tackle for legs, and that’s going to be a big challenge.
“I am just going to stay with my man and hope the d-line will keep him contained, then we can get that Mustang package on the field on third-downs and get after him.”
For Miles, Newton fits into a league of his own – a player unlike any other that the Tigers have or will face this fall.
The lowest total the junior has passed for on the year was 136 yards against Mississippi State. In the six games that Newton has carried the ball 15 times or more, opponents have held him to under 100 yards only twice – once against Mississippi State and again the next week versus Clemson.
As for what the Bulldogs did right in their 17-14 home loss to Newton and Co. in week two?
“I think Mississippi State tackled extremely well, and they held the ball on offense,” Miles said. “They moved the ball on the ground and did not necessarily turn it right back to Auburn.”
Whether Miles copies the blueprint remains to be seen, but there’s no wonder as to where the collective mind of the LSU defense is focused as the gameplan is put into place.
“I thought Tim Tebow was one of a kind, and I think Cam Newton is one of a kind,” Miles said. “Legitimately, he’s a Heisman contender.”