Oh, and that whole Cam Newton-is-all-Auburn-has thing? Turns out the guy who came from nowhere to seize the lead in this season’s Heisman Trophy race has help.
Just enough, that is, and he doesn’t need much.
That’s the takeaway from No. 5 Auburn’s 24-17 victory over No. 6 LSU on Saturday. Call it the game that filled in Auburn’s blanks.
If people like ESPN analyst Lou Holtz remain unconvinced that 8-0 Auburn has the stuff to contend for this season’s SEC title and stay in the national chase, well, then color them stubborn.
And keep right on predicting an SEC West title, Kirk Herbstreit. It looks more possible now than ever for Auburn, preseason skeptics including this one be damned.
The Tigers still have SEC foes Ole Miss, Georgia and No. 7 Alabama ahead, Ole Miss and Alabama on the road. Auburn can still slip, but its victory over LSU on Saturday should clear all doubts.
The Tigers can end up atop the SEC heap and hope for something bigger.
To get where Saturday’s game took Auburn, let’s review where the Tigers were before kickoff.
As national pundits talked about Auburn’s No. 4 ranking in the season’s first Bowl Championship Series standings, there came a question. Can Newton and Auburn’s SEC-leading offense do it against LSU’s SEC-leading defense?
The scoreboard says that LSU’s defense showed up. Helped by a missed field goal, a Mario Fannin fumble and Auburn’s stifling field position throughout the second half, LSU held Auburn 16.7 points below its 40.7 average.
But Auburn rushed for 440 yards against an LSU defense that led the SEC and ranked sixth nationally, giving up 83.6 a game.
All of that talent and speed in LSU’s front seven — Alabama-quality talent and speed — and Newton still rushed for 217 yards.
He still broke tackles and Cam-wowed three LSU defenders en route to a signature, 49-yard touchdown run that won him admiration from his opponents.
“It’s always nice when the other team says something to you when you’re getting ready to kick the (extra point),” offensive lineman Ryan Pugh said. “… You make a run like that, and you’re waiting on the replay and talking to their guys, and they’re just kind of like, ‘Hey, that guy’s for real.’”
Newton is for real, and turns out he has for-real help … never mind Dr. Lou’s contention that it’s Newton or bust for Auburn.
He accounted for 303 total yards Saturday, but guys in orange and blue not named Newton accounted for 223.
Michael Dyer rushed 15 times for 100 yards.
Onterio McCalebb broke for 70 of his 84 yards on the game’s final touchdown.
Newton had 28 runs, and four of his new best friends had 23 for a combined 221 yards — four more than Newton.
But Newton’s biggest help came from the guys on the field when he’s on the bench. Auburn’s defense held LSU without a first down on five of seven possessions in the second half.
LSU went 0-for-6 on third-down conversions in the second half after going 6-for-9 in the first half.
A week after yielding 566 yards and 43 points to Arkansas, Auburn gave up one second-half touchdown Saturday, and that on a half-back pass.
Yes, LSU’s offense is an otherwise trophy chicken without a head. Its two-man quarterback rotation might make one mediocre quarterback in the same body, and they call LSU’s head coach the “mad hatter” for a reason.
But LSU came up 73 rushing yards and 12 passing yards short of its averages. This against a battered Auburn defense that lost two injured starters in the secondary a week ago and linebacker Darren Bates on Saturday.
Auburn’s defense let Newton’s crew get away with a mere two touchdowns in the second half.
That’s good help when Newton needs it — just enough help for the leader in this past week’s StiffArmTrophy.com poll.
Does that and the Tigers’ rushing output against the SEC’s best rushing defense answer remaining questions about Auburn?
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.