Cam Newton has become a very real threat to defenses everywhere. The junior quarterback worked his magic on Pat Dye Field and Auburn earned its fifth victory of the year by a score of 52-3 over the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks.
Three years ago, the Warhawks traveled to Tuscaloosa, only to embarrass the Alabama Crimson Tide, their new coach, Nick Saban and Tide fans everywhere. The Louisiana-Monroe team that came to the Plains on Saturday was in no way, shape or form the team that defeated Saban's Tide 21-14 in 2007.
Unlike the Warhawk team that upset the Crimson Tide, the current squad has been struggling to find an identity. Ranked 114th in offense coming into Auburn, those stats were not likely to improve against a stout Tiger defense.
Auburn's Ontario McCalebb started things off with a 50 yard scamper to put the Tigers up 7-0. It was just the second play from scrimmage. When the Tigers got the ball back, they started from around the five- or six-yard line. Two plays later, an Auburn football record would be broken and Auburn would be up 14-0.
Taking the snap from the shotgun, Newton darted forward a step or two as if he were about to burst through the line on a designed quarterback draw. Because he is such a threat when he runs, the defense moved in towards him believing that he was indeed going to run. Down the field, wide receiver, Emory Blake, was all alone. Newton lofted a beautiful pass and Blake ran under it.
Touchdown, Auburn! The 94 yard play set a new record for the longest touchdown pass/reception in Auburn football history. It was the fourth play from scrimmage and the second straight time that Auburn's quick-strike offense used only two plays to put the ball into the end zone.
If football games were won by the team that controlled or possessed the ball the most, Auburn would have lost to the Warhawks on Saturday. Louisiana-Monroe did come to Auburn with a plan and for a short while in the first half, that plan seemed to be working.
Louisiana-Monroe had initial success by attacking the perimeter of Auburn's defense with short passes. Gains of four, five and six yards moved the ball down the field and into Auburn territory.
But alas; the Warhawks are ranked last in the Sun Belt conference in red zone offense and this was certainly evident when they reached the Tiger twenty yard line. Mustering only six additional yards on the drive, the University of Louisiana-Monroe settled for a field goal and their only three points of the entire game.
The first half was a grand showing of Auburn's first string offense. Using a cornucopia of plays, the Tigers put up 31 points in the first half. The Tigers would score points for the first five consecutive possessions and would punt just once in the first half, it coming with just 36 ticks left on the clock in the second quarter.
One of the most exciting touchdowns of the first half occurred when Quindarius Carr, after receiving a Cam Newton pass, did his best circus act to stay in bounds and elude Warhawk defenders.
Exciting pass plays and long runs from each member of the backfield would be all Auburn would need to get past Louisiana-Monroe. Quarterback Cam Newton had zero carries on the day, but this was by design. Newton has been Auburn's leading rusher but on Saturday, he was able to rest his legs.
Although Newton started the second half, backup quarterback Barrett Trotter would take the field with the Tigers leading 38-3. He looked very crisp, convincing Auburn fans that he will be able to lead the offense with efficiency should Newton go out with an injury.
Trotter is not the rusher Cam Newton is but he does run well and he can get out of a jam when the pass protection begins to break down. Trotter ended the game as the Tigers third best rusher with 29 yards on two carries,. He effectively drove the offense down the field for two scores, one of them, an 18-yard touchdown run of his own. In the air, Trotter was three of five for 27 yards but most importantly, he had no interceptions.
Senior running back Mario Fannin was Auburn's leading rusher with 89 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown. McCalebb followed with 56 on four carries and a touchdown. Mike Dyer rushed the ball seven times for 22 yards and a touchdown.
Quarterback Cam Newton continued to show the world that he indeed belongs in the Heisman race, putting up stellar stats once again. Yes, it was against a struggling team from the Sun Belt conference; however, he has put up excellent stats against SEC teams as well.
Impressively, Cam Newton had a very good game throwing the ball. On the day, Newton was 14 of 19 for 245 yards with three touchdown passes and one interception. He was sacked once for an eleven yard loss so technically, his stats will show that he had one rushing carry for minus eleven yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, the replacements were coming in early and often. For the first quarter of the game, the defense did not seem to be playing by the same standard as the offense. This changed abruptly in the second quarter when the standard on the Auburn defense rose and they began to play very stingy.
Overall, the defense played well, giving up only three points. Give some credit to the Louisiana-Monroe offense for doing a good job early in the game. During the first quarter, Auburn's defense, at times, looked somewhat confused. Ted Roof made excellent adjustments and as a result, the Warhawk offense failed to score a single touchdown.
Nick Fairley had another outstanding game, finishing with three solo tackles, an assist and a sack. Third string cornerback, Anthony Morgan was Auburn's leading tackler with five solo tackles an assist. By game's end, several of Auburn's reserves played well and finished with impressive stats. Veteran safety, Zac Etheridge also had a good game, finishing the day with three tackles and an interception.
For most of the game, Auburn fans had a chance to see the defensive stars of the future. Newcomers Jake Holland and Corey Lemonier could be seen all over the field, playing with a lot of grit and intensity. Freshman linebacker Jake Holland ended the game with three solo tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery. He did everything but score.
The same can also be said about Corey Lemonier, who finished the day with three solo tackles, and a sack. Lemonier's speed at defensive end allowed him to pressure the Warhawk quarterback relentlessly. The future does look bright!
One area that needs improvement immediately is special teams. Although the play of the special teams improved as the game wore on, it did not begin this way, or so it seemed.
On Louisiana-Monroe's first punt of the game, the ball was downed on the Auburn five yard line when Quindarius Carr allowed the punted ball to hit the ground at or near the ten yard line.
Was he instructed not to receive the ball so deep in Auburn territory? Were Auburn coaches fearing a fumble? Why did Carr not receive that punt on the ten yard line? I believe it was a mistake to let the ball go. Against a very good SEC team, it would be better to start from the ten, than from the five.
Kickoff coverage against Louisiana-Monroe suffered the most. In fact, it hasn't been that good all year. On Saturday, the Warhawks averaged more than twenty yards per kickoff return. Their longest return of 43 yards occurred on the first Auburn kick of the game.
Special teams coach Jay Boulware must find a way to put better kickoff coverage on the field from the start of the game to the end of the the game. One long kickoff return against a team like Arkansas or Alabama could be the very thing that gets Auburn beat this year.
A return trip to the state of Alabama did not go as well as did last time for the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks. Gene Chizik's Auburn Tigers made sure of that. In the past couple of years, Auburn has been guilty of coming out sluggish in day games. Kudos to Coach Chizik for having the Tigers ready to play at eleven o'clock in the morning.
With five games under their belt, the Auburn Tigers appear to be getting better with each victory. The next three games against Kentucky, Arkansas and LSU will certainly tell the tale.