PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- If Oregon's Daryle Hawkins really wants to take this scout team quarterback thing to the limit, why stop at the practice field? His job is to imitate the biggest celebrity in town this week. The Heisman Trophy winner. The best player in the country. Forget that he is two inches shorter and 58 pounds lighter, the question has to be asked:
Just to make sure, Daryle, your father has never offered your services to a school for $200,000?
|Daryle Hawkins doesn't have the bulk, but is trying to give Oregon's defense an idea of what it's up against. (Getty Images)|
Other than a chuckle, Hawkins is fully immersed in his duty: Become Cam on the practice field. Give the Oregon defense at least a hint of what they will be facing Monday night in the national championship game against Auburn. Hawkins has embraced his role, becoming like an actor who takes on the personality of the person he is playing. Oregon's third-string quarterback/part-time receiver is Newton as far as Duck Nation should be concerned.
"I guess I've been fully immersed in Cam Newton-ness," Hawkins said. "When I step on the field I have '2' on my back. I've dressed like him a couple of days with the half-sleeves and arm bands. I feel like all the punishment that they're about to do to him [I've endured]."
All the punishment they're about to do to him? That's being a bit presumptive. Actually, that's being a lot presumptive. In fact, the season has boiled down to how Oregon can stop the unstoppable. Any analysis of the national championship game begins -- and probably ends -- with how to game plan against the greatest college player ever.
Every team has one, a scout team quarterback to mimic the opponent's counterpart. Hawkins was picked because of his measurables that roughly equate to Newton's. Very roughly. His running ability is, well, let's just say that a 4.89-second 40 makes him Oregon's fastest quarterback, according to the media guide. Newton's 4.52 40 would have made him the fastest quarterback at last year's NFL scouting combine.
"No one," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said, "has a scout quarterback who is going to simulate the best player in the country."
That's where Hawkins' mission impossible begins. He has to knock down linebackers, juke corners, then turn on the jets and make the defense look silly. In practice. The Oregon defense has a much bigger task in real time Monday night.
"We haven't been able to duplicate exactly who Cam Newton is because we don't have a Heisman Trophy player playing quarterback for us during practice," said Nick Aliotti, Oregon's defensive coordinator. "Newton can create a lot of runs when there isn't something there. I know that he's big and strong. He's a tough runner. He will lower his shoulder. The offense runs through him exclusively. The first thing we have to do is stop Cam Newton, then work our way out from that point."
It has been said more than once: The best way to describe the Total Cam is to image a big brother playing quarterback in a sandlot game, kids hanging on his ankles hoping to take him down.
"I was watching one game against South Carolina where he dove seven yards into the end zone," Hawkins marveled. "That's when I thought he could be really, really good."
It's not surprising that Scout Team Cam, from the same high school as Gale Sayers (Omaha, Neb., Central), is digging his Newton-ness.
"The very first day I put on the jersey, I had my practice helmet on," Hawkins said. "Guys said, 'You know, you actually do kind of look just like Cam.'"
Auburn is favored to win its first national championship in 53 years basically because no one has stopped the Tigers' one-man team. Mississippi State might have come the closest, holding Newton to 136 passing yards and 70 rushing in a 17-14 loss to the Tigers on Sept. 9. That day Auburn was held to a season low in points and its second-fewest total yards. It's not surprising that the architect of that defense has since moved on. Manny Diaz was hired this week as Texas' defensive coordinator.
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"As frustrating as it was, there were third downs when he was going to scramble," Diaz said. "There was nothing you can do about it. You can drop everybody, you can spy, you can blitz everybody, he's going to get his. The key was when he got loose, you had to get him on the ground. He couldn't go for 50 yards, it has to be 15 yards. If you can limit his chunk plays, limit their explosive passing plays. ..."
Auburn was hurt that day by injuries and helped by several dropped passes by Mississippi State players. Mostly, it was before Cam was Cam. Like the rest of us in September, Diaz was still learning about Auburn's offense and its triggerman. "An offense like Auburn's usually asks you pretty simple questions but they usually ask them a million miles an hour," he said. "It's like taking a math test and the second someone asks a question, they need the answer immediately. You know simple division, simple multiplication but when you have a second and a half to answer you're not always ready for it.
"You're going to understand they're going to get yards. Cam Newton is going to make plays. They can't get [big] plays. You have to be patient on defense. When they start making plays, start making first downs, you have to keep your poise, line up and play the play again. As long as they haven't gotten the ball across the goal line yet you've got a chance."
Here's the best ways to stop him in Oregon's one-shot attempt on Monday night:
Gang tackle: Because of his size, it's hard to bring Newton down one-on-one, especially if he is in space. Aliotti has concluded that Cam is bigger than eight members of his starting defense. That puts a premium on getting multiple defenders to Newton as quickly as possible.
"It's been our defensive philosophy since the beginning of the year, 'Let's get everybody to the ball,'" Oregon linebacker Spencer Paysinger said. "There's not a lot of solo tackles in our group."
Six Ducks have at least 25 unassisted tackles. Defensive back Talmadge Jackson III leads with 43.
Take calculated risks: Teams have tried everything -- dropping seven in coverage, blitzing, using a defender to "spy" Newton. None of it seems to work consistently. It's OK to take your shots, but don't take them so often that you get burned. Diaz went into the Auburn game with few gimmicks.
"We just had to play our [basic] stuff," he said. "The X-factor no one ever talks about is the emergence of [Michael] Dyer. That was his second game."
Dyer was the nation's No. 1 prep tailback last year. Newton's emergence has overshadowed the fact that the second-team freshman All-American fell just 50 yards short of 1,000 in his first season.
Don't ever assume a play, or a game, is over: Newton's 49-yard touchdown run against LSU has become legendary and viral. It serves as warning for defenders who think they have the quarterback hemmed in. Newton broke at least three tackles and accelerated like a sprinter over the final 20 yards.
The Tigers as a whole have come from behind eight times, four times when they were down by double-digits. They dominate in the fourth quarter, having outscored opponents 125-48. All-American defensive tackle Nick Fairley was asked what it would be like to enter the fourth quarter Monday down by seven with Newton.
"Game's still not over," he said. "We have another quarter here to play. Let's go in here and fight our balls off."
Don't underestimate Newton's passing ability: Receiver Terrell Zachery is familiar with the "Elway Cross". It was the mark made by the point of the ball John Elway used to leave on the bodies of his receivers in practice. Newton has similar velocity.
"Sometimes he throws too hard," Zachery said. "He knows when to take something off but you don't want to run the slant because he'll zip it in there to you."
Almost unnoticed during Newton's spectacular season is his efficiency, a cumulative measure of a quarterback's completion, touchdown and interception percentages. Unless he totally goes in the dumper on Monday -- unlikely -- Newton will finish as the most efficient single-season passer in I-A history. His 188.15 passer rating would surpass the record of Hawaii's Colt Brennan (186.0) set in 2006. Newton has thrown for less than half of Brennan's 5,549 yards this season but has only six interceptions in 246 throws, many of them unorthodox. His athleticism has allowed Newton to zip those Elway Crosses despite questionable mechanics.
"He was always throwing off his back foot and it was always perfect," Zachery said. "I guess [mechanics] matters, but I guess Cam's different."
Hope, pray: With both teams in the top five in scoring, a shootout is expected. Newton obviously tips things in favor of Auburn.
"The thing that jumped out before the game is you absolutely, positively had to deny them explosive plays," Diaz said. "It's easier said than done."
The only certainty is that Aliotti has an award waiting for The Man Who Would Be Cam.
"Daryle will win scout player of the week," he said, "no matter what happens."