In its latest win, Auburn showed it has more playmakers than just star quarterback Cam Newton.
That balance should be more than enough for the No. 3 Tigers to remain undefeated Saturday when they host FCS opponent Chattanooga.
The Tigers improved to 9-0 after last week’s 51-31 victory over Mississippi, but slid from first to second in the BCS rankings due to Oregon’s impressive win over then-No. 24 Southern California.
Auburn, though, showed it may have enough to stay in the race for the BCS title game even if opponents keep Newton in check. The junior, who had previously averaged around 135 rushing yards, had 45 on 11 carries against Ole Miss but caught a TD pass from Kodi Burns and threw two more.
Newton remains the SEC’s leading rusher with 1,122 yards - 399 more than any other player.
Newton’s teammates picked up the slack. Michael Dyer ran for a career-best 180 yards and Onterio McCalebb added 99 on nine carries. With their help, the Tigers topped 300 rushing yards for the fourth consecutive game and improved their average output on the ground to 307.7, fourth in FBS.
“There’s just so many people that come to mind when you talk about Auburn’s offense, not just me,” Newton said. “Of course, I don’t want to have all the attention on me, because that only makes my job harder. Those guys came out here and any time they had an opportunity to make a play, they did.”
With games against Georgia and arch-rival Alabama to wrap up the regular season, the Tigers might be tempted to overlook the Mocs (5-3), but offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said he expects his team to play as hard as usual.
“It is very important to try to improve each week,” Malzahn told the school’s official website. “That is what we focused on today, we are going to go at this team 110 miles per hour just like we do every other game. That is our approach and that is our mindset.”
That speed could overwhelm Chattanooga, which saw its five-game winning streak end with a 49-35 loss to Elon last week.
Mocs quarterback B.J. Coleman helped rally his team from an early 21-point deficit with a career-high five touchdown passes but also threw a career-worst five interceptions, one of which was returned for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.
“We have to play better than that,” coach Russ Huesman said. “The one good thing about our team is that we know that we have playmakers and I hope they plan to play better and something positive will happen.”
Coleman, whose 282.1 passing yards per game rank fifth in FCS, is one of those playmakers. Top target Joel Bradford is another.
Coleman, who began his college career at Tennessee, has 818 yards in the last two games but also nine interceptions. He has 21 touchdowns this season with 12 interceptions - three more than in all of 2009.
Former high school teammate Bradford, who moved back to receiver after starting at safety last season, has 66 receptions for an FCS-best 1,027 yards and seven TDs.
Those two players will try to help the Mocs be more competitive than in their last trip to Auburn in 1995. The Tigers beat Chattanooga 76-10 in that game, setting a Jordan-Hare Stadium record for largest margin of victory.
Auburn has won 20 consecutive matchups with the Mocs by an average margin of 28.7 points.