The superlatives flowed freely around the Kentucky camp this week when Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton's name came up.
Asked to give one word to describe Newton, UK Coach Joker Phillips said, "Animal."
Said defensive coordinator Steve Brown: "We're playing against Secretariat. He's a Thoroughbred."
Newton is 6-foot-6, weighs 250 pounds, can zip bullets downfield with ease, and runs with the power of a fullback and the speed and grace of a wide receiver. He's second in the nation in passing efficiency. Newton is also fourth in the Southeastern Conference in rushing (94.8 yard per game) and would rank higher had not the Auburn coaching staff limited his carries in a 52-3 win over Louisiana-Monroe last weekend. Newton's only rushing attempt came on a sack for minus-11 yards, but he threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns.
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"There's really nothing you can try to take away, because he can do it all," Brown said.
Newton might have been in a Florida uniform this year had he not transferred from the school in 2008 after being arrested in an incident over a stolen laptop. The most serious charges were dropped after he completed a pre-trial intervention program for first-time offenders. Newton moved on to Blinn College in Texas and tore up the junior-college circuit for a year before landing at Auburn, where he was intrigued by offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's spread offense. Newton enrolled for the spring semester, nailed down the starting job in spring practice and has proven to be the prototypical dual threat that Malzahn's offense requires.
"With (Malzahn) having the résumé that he does, and the awesome staff that we have, from the receivers coach (Trooper Taylor) to the running backs coach (Curtis Luper), everybody has played a part," Newton said. "I'm glad I was able to enroll in January and get the whole gist of the offense. It's all paying off now."
Newton is at his most dangerous as a runner. He already has five rushing touchdowns, including runs of 71 and 54 yards. When asked about his 40-yard dash time, he said, "I'm not sure, really. It's been awhile since I ran it. I just try not to get tackled in the open field."
Newton has Auburn (5-0) ranked No. 8 in this week's Associated Press poll.
"In one play he outran South Carolina's whole defense, and we know how fast those guys are," Phillips said. "And he stumbled doing it. He just regathered himself and sprinted right past them."
When he's not sprinting past defenders, Newton is lowering his shoulder and running over opponents. That could put at risk a Wildcats defense that has had issues with tackling.
"This is going to be our biggest challenge by far," UK defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. "As good as (Mississippi quarterback) Jeremiah Masoli was, he was 5-11, 220. This guy is 6-6, 250. He's a monster. We've got to be disciplined, use good technique, and wrap him up. He'll run straight through arm tackles."
Auburn Coach Gene Chizik said the staff limited Newton by design last week in order for him to polish up as a pocket passer. He was 14-for-19 passing and had a 94-yard TD toss to Emory Blake, the longest play from scrimmage in school history. He also threw an interception.
"There were times in the game where Cam could've made some better choices and he knows that and I think he was disappointed in some of the choices he made as a pocket passer, but I think that was invaluable experience," Chizik said. "One great thing about Cameron is that he is a very smart player. He understands when he makes a mistake and the value of not doing it twice. I think he experienced a little bit of that Saturday."
Newton is clearly in the discussion for both the Heisman Trophy and SEC Player of the Year. But the Atlanta native was humble when asked about such honors.
"I'm not willing to accept that," he said. "It would be selfish on my part to get caught up in individual awards. I'm just focused on leadership and consistency playing the quarterback position. I've got to work on my mechanics and other things to be the best player I can be."
Newton is much more animated when discussing the Tigers' first top-10 ranking in four years.
"It's worked out perfect," Newton said. "I've been lucky enough to be a part of a team that's gotten off to a really good start. I couldn't ask for more. We've just got to try and keep it going."