Auburn's Ground Game Has Threats Beyond Cam
Onterio McCalebb

Jan. 9, 2011

By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb are the other guys in Auburn's rushing attack.

They complement Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton with their decidedly different styles and keep defenses from going wholesale into just-stop-Cam mode. Oh yeah, they also accumulate a fair number of yards along the way.

Dyer, a compact, powerful freshman, and the wispy-thin but speedy McCalebb have combined for 1,713 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns for the nation's No. 6 rushing attack.

Along with senior Mario Fannin, they don't seem to mind conceding the headlines and camera time to Newton, who has run for 1,409 yards and 20 touchdowns.

"Cam is our quarterback. He's the face of the team," Fannin said. "We know that he's going to get that attention and we want him to get that attention. That's a positive outlook on the team. But we understand as running backs that we can get the job done, too. And he understands that as well. And the coaches do, too. So everything balances out for us."

It's worked awfully well so far. The Tigers are averaging 287.2 yards a game on the ground and, perhaps even more impressively, 6.2 yards a carry even including sacks.

Sure, Newton has shattered Tim Tebow's Southeastern Conference rushing record for a quarterback and Bo Jackson's school mark for single-season touchdowns on the ground while leading the nation in pass efficiency.

But many of his rushing yards have come on the zone read, where he can either hand off or keep it and dart up the middle. Opposing defenses having respect for the running backs certainly doesn't hurt.

McCalebb's go-to play has been the jet sweep that lets him work up speed on his way to the perimeter. He has 763 yards and nine touchdowns. The 5-foot-10, 171-pounder is averaging 8.57 yards a carry, on pace for a school record and highest in the nation among the top 100 rushers.

The 5-9, 215-pound Dyer is more of a between-the-tackles runner who helps wear down defenses. He's got 950 yards, outdistancing Jackson's old school standard for freshmen (829) set in 1982.

When Mississippi focused on containing Newton, Dyer ran for 180 yards.

"They all bring something different to the table," Oregon defensive back Eddie Pleasant said. "No. 23 (McCalebb) is more of a speedy guy. No. 5 (Dyer) looks like he can do both and No. 27 (Fannin) looks like he's more of a power guy."

What they all have in common: Deferring to Newton, with no hint of eye-rolling or envy. Sure, Dyer had 23 carries against South Carolina and 21 against Ole Miss, but he's also had six games where he failed to reach double digits.

McCalebb, meanwhile, has only had 10 or more carries three times and averages fewer than seven a game.

Dyer, who was one of the nation's top running back recruits last year, said it doesn't bother him in the least that Auburn's leading rusher is a quarterback.

"It's actually been fun for us," Dyer said. "It takes a lot of pressure off us some games. He's just a guy that goes out and plays his heart out. When the ball's in his hands, he does a lot."

And when it's in the hands of McCalebb or Dyer?

"We just go out there and when it's time to go between the tackles or use our speed, Onterio has great speed and great vision," Dyer said. "And when it's time to run between the tackles and get more carries and take pressure off Cam, that's what I try to do."

All three tailbacks have started multiple games, including Fannin, who has run for 395 yards despite some fumbling problems.

Running backs coach Curtis Luper said the willingness of players like his tailbacks to be content with their roles has been pivotal in the Tigers' 13-0 season.

"Everyone on the team has embraced their role, and that's why we're here today," Luper said. "You're not in a position like this unless you have that type of commitment. And I'm sure Oregon has the same."

So there's the speedster, the power guy and the one with some of both.

Then there's Newton. Fannin has a different label for him.

"He's the highlight reel," he said.