Oct. 7, 2010
By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
No. 8 Auburn has to keep a wary eye out for the varied roles of Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke. As for Kentucky, watch out for Cameron Newton if all the Tigers' receivers are covered.
Both teams bring dangerous, versatile offensive playmakers into Saturday's showdown in Lexington, the kind of guys who can produce yards and wins in multiple ways.
Auburn (5-0, 2-0 SEC) has ridden the running and passing of Newton into the top 10. The Tigers' defense, meanwhile, is painfully aware of the challenges presented by Cobb and Locke.
Both ran for 100 yards in last year's game and they accounted for 245 of the Wildcats' 357 offensive yards. Kentucky (3-2, 0-2) was without injured quarterback Mike Hartline, leaving the offense severely limited.
The Wildcats still won 21-14, and Cobb sealed it with a late touchdown run.
"To me, they do a great job of using their personnel in the right way," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "With Locke, obviously he's a great running back. He's one of the top rushers in the league, but he'll catch eight balls a game. They just know how to get their guys the ball.
"There's challenges all over the place."
The league's No. 2 rusher, Locke is tops in all-purpose yards. Cobb is third on that list and is the fifth-leading receiver.
Newton was topping the SEC in rushing last week before offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn proved it is possible to contain him by making him stay put in the pocket against Louisiana-Monroe. Oh yeah, he can throw, too.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton is the nation's most efficient passer.
"He's the Byron Leftwich-type quarterback," Kentucky linebacker Danny Trevathan said. "He's big but he can also make up room. When you make a mistake he can pick the ball up and run. We just can't give him an inch. We can't give him room to create big plays. He does a lot of that with his feet, scrambling around making big plays. He can throw."
Newton also causes headaches in trying to find a scout-teamer to simulate him in practice. For Kentucky, that has been 6-4 reserve quarterback Tyler Sargent.
"We really don't have anybody that can simulate the type of speed that their guy has," Wildcats coach Joker Phillips said. "Just executing the offense, Tyler's done a really good job for us at doing that."
Thanks largely to those three playmakers, Auburn and Kentucky both rank in the top 25 nationally in scoring and total offense.
Newton has run for 474 yards, passed for 928 and accounted for 17 touchdowns. By comparison, there are six SEC teams yet to score 17 TDs total.
He also has a 71-yard run and a 94-yard pass. The no-run restriction placed on him against Louisiana-Monroe last weekend gave him a reprieve from the physical toll but also provided a little extra pocket practice.
"There were times in the game that Cameron could have made some better choices," Chizik said. "He was disappointed in some of the choices that he made as a pocket passer. I think that was invaluable experience. One great thing about Cameron is that he's a very smart player. He understands when he makes a mistake once the value in not doing it twice."
Auburn also has a versatile weapon in Mario Fannin, who caught 80 passes the past three seasons. He has two touchdown catches despite playing mostly tailback this season and nursing a shoulder injury the past few weeks. Fannin said this week he's 100 percent healthy.
"That's the thing I want to do this year, is to be able to help my team in both aspects of the game," Fannin said. "Hopefully, the coaches will be able to trust me in that aspect."
Newton is the main man, though. Phillips said he's one of the rare runners in the SEC who are constant threats to go the distance, like Locke.
"He's the guy that touches the ball every dang snap," the Wildcats' coach said, "so you've got to account for him."
At Kentucky, Locke and Cobb are producing a combined 339 all-purpose yards a game
Locke has run for 543 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 25.4 yards on kick returns, and he's also caught 19 passes. Cobb has averaged 9.3 yards on 13 runs, caught a team-high 25 passes and also returns kicks and punts.
Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes isn't used to seeing players hold down as many roles as Cobb.
"You don't see that at all," Bynes said. "And that's the beautiful thing about it, because he's a great athlete.
"He's just going to go out there and just keep playing every down. When you have a guy like that who gets that many touches, runs, catches a game, you know he's the kind of guy they want to get the ball to on offense if they can each and every play."