With apologies to the thousands who've come before him, Saturday night's opening act by quarterback Cam Newton now sits as the best premiere in Auburn history. Rarely does reality live up to the hype. On Saturday it exceeded it. Dare we say Newton's night was Tebow-like?
For the better part of a year, Auburn coaches have kept the junior transfer under wraps like he was the newest iteration of the stealth bomber. When all was said and done Saturday evening against Arkansas State, Newton had carpet bombed Jordan-Hare Stadium for 186 yards through the air and 171 yards on the ground.
Critics will point to the relative weakness of the opponent, but if you sat at Pat Dye Field and watched with your own eyes, today you are a believer. Not since Dameyune Craig lit up the blue skies of Auburn back in the late 90's has an Auburn quarterback looked so athletic and just plain capable.
"I don't know if I have seen an individual performance better than Cam Newton," said Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts. "He is the best player I have ever seen live."
One game doesn't make the player. And Saturday was not perfect for Newton - cue the end of the first half. Thursday will bring an entirely different level of competition. While the game program says he's a junior, we all know he's a freshman at heart. With it will comes challenges and mistakes.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik knows Newton will have to continue to improve the little things. "For his first football game, I couldn't be prouder of what he did," Chizik said. "(But) he will be the first one to tell you he knows there is a lot of work to be done."
Newton knows his limitations. After making a Carnell Williams like move on a 16 yard run for a first down in the second quarter, the East Alabama heat caught up with him momentarily. Sensing it, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn pulled Newton and reached into his bag of tricks, resulting in a 42 yard completion by third-string quarterback Neil Caudle.
No one was more grateful than the new comer. "Let's just say I was happy," Newton said of Caudle's appearance. "I saw disaster in the near future, I was so tired."
With Newtonpalooza in full swing, the performance of the nation's top prep running back was nearly lost. After watching fellow blue-chipper Marcus Lattimore get off to a good start in South Carolina Thursday night, Michael Dyer had to wait until the second quarter to make his Auburn debut. He wasted little time matching Lattimore's performance, running for 95 yards on 14 carries with one touchdown.
It was a night where the tailback depth chart seemed to mean nothing. Dyer began the day as the number three tailback. Together with back-up Onterio McCalebb, they put up 171 yards of rushing while the starter, Mario Fannin managed only three carries for 14 yards.
Speaking Sunday afternoon, Chizik said, "I wouldn't read anything into it." Asked a short time later, Fannin said the same thing. Despite only three carries, he still finished the night in fine fashion, catching two touchdowns.
The five day turnaround in preparation for Thursday night's conference opener with Mississippi State presents its own set of challenges. "You've got to be smart on how you proceed," Chizik said Sunday. "We've got a lot of work to do to get ready for a very, very tough conference game. We made a lot of mistakes, but I think they're fixable."
"Their (Miss St.) offense is tremendous looking. They're throwing it and running it at will,'' he said. The Bulldogs defeated Memphis 49-7 in its season opener.
Kickoff from Scott Field in Starkville is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday night and will be televised by ESPN.