Cam Newton: His 10 Biggest Plays in the BCS Championship Game Win
Auburn Tigers quarterback Cam Newton did not have to prove much from a personal standpoint when he took the field for the BCS Championship Game Monday against the Oregon Ducks. With Stanford standout Andrew Luck electing to return to school, Newton would have been viewed as a top-three quarterback prospect regardless of his performance.
Yet he played like a man on a mission. He did not post great numbers; in fact, he struggled against a defense that quickly proved it could contain him as a runner to an extent no team had been able to all season. He even fumbled the ball away in the fourth quarter, his second turnover, giving the Ducks the opportunity to drive down the field and tie the game.
In the end, though, Newton conducted a final drive to a game winning field goal and proved he can handle the pressure of a big game and a big moment. Read on for the ten biggest plays he made in what will almost surely be his final game for Auburn.
1. 12:00 Remaining, Second Quarter: Touchdown Pass #1
Down 3-0 after an Oregon field goal in the first minute of the second quarter, Newton led the Tigers on an eight-play, 82-yard drive in which he completed five of six passes for 67 yards. The last one came on second and 10 from the Oregon 35, when he hit Kodi Burns over the middle of the field.
Burns caught the ball in stride and had an open lane, beating a pair of defenders to reach the end zone. The drive, so effortless for Auburn, put the Tigers back in front and made a clear statement: The offense had found its rhythm.
2. 5:34 Remaining, Second Quarter: Big Conversion
In the first quarter, the Tigers had possessed the ball for all of 11 plays and had gained just 22 yards. Their early second-quarter drive supplied confidence, but the team still was not moving the ball with ease when they took over again with 10:58 to play.
Thereupon, Newton found his mojo, or seemed to. He led Auburn on a 16-play drive, marked most poignantly by four successful third-down conversions. The last looked like the most important: After an Auburn timeout, Newton gained three tough yards on third and 2, diving forward on a draw play to get past the marker.
The drive did not end as the team hoped, after Newton's low fourth-and-goal pass could not be dug out by Eric Smith. Still, the drive, which Newton extended several times, kept the ball out of the hands of the Oregon offense for fully half a quarter, and when the Ducks did get it back, the defense promptly recorded a safety.
3. 1:47 Remaining, Second Quarter: Touchdown Pass No. 2
After the defense bailed out Newton's squad with the safety against LaMichael James of Oregon, the Tigers got the ball back with roughly three and a half minutes to play in the half. Michael Dyer rushed three times on the ensuing drive for 19 yards, helping to keep the defense honest even in a time-sensistive situation.
Newton really began to take over the game at this point. He completed all three of his passes on the drive, and more and more Oregon defenders' eyes began to stray into the backfield too soon, looking for Newton to run or to otherwise break down their defense.
On a first down from the Oregon 30 yard line, Newton caught them doing it and made them pay. Wide receiver Emory Blake ended up in single coverage on the left side with an Oregon linebacker, and when Newton saw the linebacker stutter in his back-pedal, he pounced. Blake scored easily after catching a frozen rope of a pass from Newton along the sideline. The Tigers took a 16-11 lead on the play.
4. 13:40 Remaining, Third Quarter: Another Big Conversion
The Tigers received to start the second half, and Newton wasted no time in proving that the Ducks would not be able to entirely shut him out as a runner. He rushed three straight times, the last for two yards and a first down on third and one.
Aside from keeping the drive alive, the third run made it clear that Newton could succeed even when the Oregon defense knew what was coming. He rushed for only 64 yards on 22 carries in the game, but succeeded in nearly every important third down situation.
5. 12:45 Remaining, Third Quarter: Long-Strike Lutzenkirchen
On second and 5 from the Auburn 45, Newton needed to make a play. The Tigers seemed to be slogging forward again, the way they had during the long and ultimately fruitless first half drive. Whenever they turned to the ground game on Monday they found the sledding tough, and though they were able to pick up a total of 254 yards rushing, they fell into a rut whenever they became too reliant upon that side of the game.
Thus, Newton made the big play that put Auburn into field goal range with his arm. He threw a strike down the left side, not at all unlike the pass he had thrown to Blake for the second touchdown pass of the first half. This time, his target was a bit bigger, and Philip Lutzenkirchen did not turn the big play into a scoring play. Still, the gain was 39 yards, and the pass from Newton was perfect.
6. 10:15 Remaining, Fourth Quarter: A Third Big Conversion
Auburn got the ball for second time in the fourth quarter when the defense forced Oregon to punt with 11:00 remaining. The offense started from the 21 yard line, but after a run for negative yardage by Onterio McCalebb and an incomplete pass, they faced third down and 12 yards to go. If they had punted then, Oregon would have gotten the ball back at approximately their own 45 yard line, with 10 plus minutes on the clock.
Instead, Newton made a play with his feet. He scrambled for 18 yards on the play, a gashing run that spun momentum (gaining importance as the game grew more taut) back toward Auburn and kept the ball out of the Ducks' hands.
7. 7:50 Remaining, Fourth Quarter: Yet Another Big Conversion
It may seem a tired subject, but third down efficiency was really the difference in this game, and Newton was by far the biggest reason for Auburn's ability to convert so many of them.
This time, the Tigers needed four yards to keep the ball and continue to drain the clock after Newton's big run on the previous third down had allowed them to run more time off. For the only time all night, Newton targeted Mario Fannin, and picked up a crucial 16 yard third down conversion. In total, the Tigers would notch nine such conversions in 17 tries, while Oregon went just five for 15 in that department.
8. 2:33 Remaining, Fourth Quarter: Starting The Drive Right
After Newton's key fumble gave Oregon the chance to tie the game, the Tigers got the ball back with roughly two and a half minutes to move down the field and score to win the game in regulation.
It would have been easy, even given the need for only a field goal, for Auburn to have run a frenetic and inefficiently hurried offense. Newton ensured that would not happen, though, on the first play: He threw a 15 yard strike to Blake (who finished with four catches for 54 yards) that moved the ball out to the Tigers 40 yard line.
With the clock stopped and the team now just 30 yards from field goal range, that pass gave Auburn the luxury of slowing down and running the football. On the very next play, running back Michael Dyer made a sensational play and put the team squarely in position to score.
9. 1:00 Remaining, Fourth Quarter: Bleeding The Clock
It hardly mattered what the Tigers did after Dyer's run put them in field goal range, as long as they stayed in the middle of the field and did not turn the ball over. Wisely, though, they also sought to keep the clock moving, and good management allowed them to kick the final field goal with no time remaining.
Newton had a rush on second down just after the big run, and though he gained just two yards on the play, it helped to keep the clock ticking down toward zero. Dyer raced to within a yard of the goal line on the next play, forcing Oregon to call a timeout with 10 seconds left. Newton ran the ball into the ground again, setting up the game winner.
10. 0:00 Remaining, Fourth Quarter: Champions!
Okay, so Newton was not directly involved in this play. He did make other plays excluded from this recap that could have gone here. In the final calculus, however, his effort would not have seemed half as impressive if the team had not won, and win they did when Wes Byrum's kick sailed true through the uprights.
Newton's back had been wrenched out of whack during the game, so he could not quite engage in the leaping, running exuberance we might have otherwise expected. Instead, his smile—wider and easier than ever—told the story of his joy at being atop the college football world, just as he prepares to ascend toward the next level of football.