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Thursday, January 6, 2011
Don't sleep on Newton's supporting cast

By Chris Low

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It’s impossible to put a value on what Cam Newton has meant to Auburn’s football team this season.

Without him, his teammates freely admit that they wouldn’t be here right now soaking up the desert sun and preparing for what they hope will be their first national championship in 57 years.

Onterio McCalebb
RB Onterio McCalebb should provide Auburn explosiveness out of the backfield in 2012.
He’s accounted for 49 touchdowns. He’s passed for 2,589 yards. He’s rushed for 1,409 yards. He leads the country in passing efficiency.

As Oregon cornerback Talmadge Jackson says, Newton creates some things a lot of quarterbacks can’t.

And what Auburn has created is the ideal supporting cast to go around its Heisman Trophy winner.

Newton might be the marquee offensive playmaker on this team, but he’s far from the only playmaker.

“It’s really been the perfect year for us as far as personnel,” Auburn senior offensive tackle Lee Ziemba said. “Everybody has contributed.”

The Tigers have had 11 different players score offensive touchdowns, and eight of the 11 have scored at least four touchdowns.

What’s more, 10 different players have gains from scrimmage of 30 yards or longer this season.

And three different players, including Newton, have each rushed for more than 750 yards.

“We have a lot of different people who can beat you,” Newton said. “It’s not just me.”

The beauty of it for Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is that it’s been a different player in every game stepping forward to complement Newton with key plays.

In fact, there might not have been a more important offensive play all season for the Tigers than Onterio McCalebb’s 70-yard touchdown run on a sweep to break a 17-17 deadlock against LSU.

Auburn had run up and down the field that day and piled up gaudy offensive numbers, but couldn’t shake loose from LSU. McCalebb’s dash to the end zone with 5:05 to play was the decisive blow.

McCalebb, the Tigers’ speed option at running back, scored 10 touchdowns this season. Seven of them were 12 yards or longer, and four were 49 yards or longer.

“In the second half, when teams are tired, that speed is even more of a factor,” Newton said.

Against Alabama, Emory Blake’s 36-yard touchdown catch in the waning minutes of the first half finally got Auburn on the board. And then in the opening minute of the second half, Terrell Zachery pulled in a 70-yard bomb for a touchdown to set in motion the greatest comeback in Iron Bowl history.

A week later against South Carolina in the SEC championship game, it was Darvin Adams snaring Newton’s Hail Mary for a 51-yard touchdown right before halftime on a pass that was deflected in the end zone. The Gamecocks were never the same the rest of the way.

Earlier in the first quarter, Adams got behind the South Carolina secondary for a 54-yard touchdown.

The Tigers head into Monday night’s Tostitos BCS National Championship Game with 25 offensive touchdowns of 25 yards or longer. That's tied for second nationally with Hawaii. Oregon leads the way with 27.

“Big plays are contagious,” Ziemba said. “Coach Malzahn tells us that. This offense is at its best when it goes 5 yards, 5 yards, 5 yards and then 30 yards. That’s what this offense is built on, and a lot of different people are a part of that.”

Newton has gone to every one of them, too, at different points in the season.

Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen had three of his five touchdown catches in the final three games of the season.

“We’re fortunate enough to have talented enough players that when they’re called on, they can make plays,” Malzahn said. “They’re very good at what they do and fit well around Cam.”

Senior receiver Kodi Burns, who actually threw a touchdown pass this season to Newton, added, “Pretty much anybody who touches it on offense can take it the distance. That’s really what this offense is about, taking what the defense gives you, but at the same time, having explosive plays.”

Oregon’s defenders say they won’t be lulled to sleep by focusing only on Newton and forgetting about everybody else.

Still, it’s obvious where most of their attention will be concentrated Monday night.

“If you look at their offense, they do have a lot of playmakers, and they’re very balanced,” Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews said. “But Cam is what makes their offense go.”