There are many things you could say about Cam Newton , and by now, nearly all of them have been said.
But even given that Newton ranks second in the country in passer rating, given that he's rushed more often than he's thrown in one of the country's strongest rushing attacks, you wouldn't expect "we fear him more as a passing threat than a running threat" to have been one of those things said. It turns out that's exactly what South Carolina was saying to themselves as they prepared to face Auburn the first time:
South Carolina's coaches saw a 6-6, 250-pound quarterback who wanted to throw first and run second. The new JaMarcus Russell, they called him. That's what film against Arkansas State, Mississippi State and Clemson had shown them.Newton solved that problem right quick, going for 176 of Auburn's 334 yards on the ground. Obviously, when the two teams meet again Saturday in the SEC Championship Game (exclusively on CBS!), the Gamecocks will be a little more focused on making sure Newton has to beat them through the air rather than on the ground alone. (Whether they can succeed is debatable given Carolina's struggles in their 100th-ranked pass defense and Newton's 12-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio since midseason, but when given two evils, one has to be the lesser.)
But they were mistaken.
"The first time we played them, they did a good job and wore us out," Gamecocks defensive assistant Shane Beamer said Monday.
"We probably didn't have as much respect for him as a runner as we did a passer."
But the question has to be asked: what film of Mississippi State and Clemson were the Gamecock coaches watching? Against State , Newton threw 19 times and rushed the ball 18 times, with many of those rushes going for critical first downs and one of his passes an ugly interception into end-zone triple coverage. Against Clemson , Newton threw just 14 times (with two more interceptions) while carrying the ball 17 times.
Certainly, many of Newton's passes in both those games went for huge plays (he averaged a remarkable 29 yards per-completion in the comeback against Clemson) and both the Bulldogs and Tigers kept him largely bottled up in those 35 attempts on the ground. But if Carolina really expected Newton to be a Russell-like pocket passer, you have to ask what they thought they were seeing over the course of those games ... and whether the same staff is up the challenge of Gus Malzahn and Newton this time around.