Newton'd: Auburn Tigers Take SEC West, Beating Dawgs 49-31

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Georgia Vs. Auburn Final Score: 49-31 Auburn, Tigers Off For Atlanta Via Tuscaloosa

Despite a week of controversy surrounding QB Cam Newton, the Auburn Tigers have locked up the SEC West by beating the Georgia Bulldogs 49-31. Tonight Newton was good for 300 total yards and four touchdowns, with the rest of Auburn’s running game producing 164 yards.

The Dawgs held a 14-point lead in the first quarter after Baccari Rambo’s interception led to one of QB Aaron Murray’s three early scores, but the Tigers forced a halftime tie, recovered an onside kick to open the half, and never looked back. WR A.J. Green finished with 164 of Murray’s 277 yards.

Murray left the game in the final minutes after suffering a knee injury. Auburn DT Nick Fairley, who had led the Tigers’ relentless pass rush all night, hit Murray in the knee with his helmet. Several Georgia players clearly thought it was a cheap shot, as fights broke out on the next two snaps, multiple Tigers got thrown out for throwing punches, and Mark Richt was among the coaches on the field trying to clear the shrapnel.

The Dawgs have one more shot at bowl eligibility: the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Athens in two weeks. The Tigers travel to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide, and then it’s on to the Georgia Dome. With or without Newton.

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Georgia Bulldogs Vs. Auburn Tigers: When Auburn Has The Ball, There Better Be A Spy On Cameron Newton

BY THE NUMBERS
Auburn's offense: Averaging 202.2 yards per game passing (73rd in Division I-A), 307.2 yards rushing (4th).
Georgia's defense: Allowing 199.1 yards per game passing (37th), 106.4 yards rushing (13th).

REASONS TO BE EXCITED
Well, the good news is there aren't too many elite playmakers on the Auburn roster for Georgia to worry about other then Cam Newton. Besides the prolific Tiger QB (whom we'll get to in a moment, rest assured), Auburn only has two offensive skill-position players ranked in the top 10 in the SEC in any statistical category -- running back Michael Dyer, seventh in the conference with 79.9 rushing yards per game, and receiver Darvin Adams, eighth with 63.3 receiving yards per game. Other than Adams, there isn't exactly a wealth of deep-threat wideouts to test Georgia's hit-or-miss secondary. Nor is there a lot of consistency on Auburn's special teams -- they're near the bottom in the SEC in both punting and punt returns.

REASONS TO BE WORRIED
OK, here's where we have to start talking about Cam Newton, whom Auburn coach Gene Chizik assures us will play this weekend in spite of the mounting controversy over his recruitment out of junior college. No disrespect to Georgia's defensive front, which has risen to a surprising second in the SEC in run defense, but their impressive statistics are a bit misleading -- they still haven't figured out how to neutralize a mobile QB yet, as evidenced by the rushing totals run up by Mississippi State's Chris Relf (20 carries, 109 yards), Florida's Trey Burton (17-110, two TDs), or even Colorado's Tyler Hansen (10-51, one TD). And it doesn't take a statistical genius to figure that Newton is easily the most dangerous QB they'll have faced yet. To add to the worry, Auburn's passing stats are just as misleading; it's not that they suck at throwing the ball, it's just that they haven't asked Newton to throw it all that much because, well, they haven't had to. But when they have asked him to launch it, he's been the second most efficient passer in the entire country, completing more than two-thirds of his throws with a TD/INT ratio of 19/5. This was a very potent offense even last year, when Auburn offensive coordinator only had supposed also-ran Chris Todd to work with; with a he-man like Newton, it's become downright unstoppable.

KEY MATCHUP
Georgia LB Justin Houston vs. Auburn QB Cam Newton.
Like, who did you think it was going to be? Nobody on Auburn's offense is a more diabolical threat, and nobody on Georgia's defense is more capable of stopping him (if, of course, he's capable of being stopped in the first place). Houston has been a savvy QB-headhunter all season long, leading the SEC with nine sacks, but even he will have a tough time taking down Newton, whom he outweighs by only a couple large meals' worth and who rarely, if ever, has gone down on first contact. If Houston can't use his deceptive speed to chase down Newton before he gets to the defensive backfield, it's going to be a long day on the Plains for Georgia.

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Georgia Vs. Auburn Odds: Cam Newton Uncertainty Has Sportsbooks Pulling Lines

The ongoing Cam Newton investigation has sportsbooks taking this Saturday’s game between the Georgia Bulldogs and Auburn Tigers down, making the game unavailable for public betting. According to David Payne at Covers.com, a major professional bettor laid money on Georgia at 9:07 this morning. Shortly after, sportsbooks started taking the game down. As Covers.com shares:

“We’re hearing reports that Cameron Newton’s status may be a game-time decision,” said Stoneback, Wednesday morning. “A professional player came in this morning bet Georgia and soon after we got an alert from one of our services about the news.”

The game’s line is currently off at Sportsbetting.com, Bodog.com, Sportsbook.com, and others. Bodog has posted a “BET LIVE” notice, indicating the game won’t be available until Newton is either officially on the field or ruled out.

The line is still up at our own Odds Shark listings center, though there’s no actual way to gamble through that listing. It is noteworthy that the line has slipped. Auburn opened as a 9.5-point favorite, which is now down to 7.

As far as whether Newton will be playing on Saturday, this might just be a speculation stampede, or some of these high rollers might know something we don’t yet. We’ll stay tuned.

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Georgia Bulldogs vs. Auburn Tigers: When Georgia Has The Ball, Aaron Murray Needs To Be Sharp (And Upright)

BY THE NUMBERS
Georgia's offense: Averaging 240.9 yards per game passing (45th nationally), 153.7 yards rushing (61st).
Auburn's defense: Allowing 241.3 yards per game passing (95th), 114.6 yards rushing (18th).

REASONS TO BE EXCITED
Last year Auburn's defense was holding its own against the pass but helpless against the run; this year it's the pass defense's turn in the barrel. Granted, they've frequently run up the kinds of big leads that have forced their opponents to go pass-heavy, but the Tigers' pass-efficiency defense stats have been mediocre, and they've only picked off eight passes all season (half of those coming against the backup QBs of South Carolina and Arkansas in desperation-comeback mode). Last week against Idaho State, Aaron Murray had the chance to shake off some rust (and some residual disappointment from the Florida loss) and finished with a tidy 19-of-27, three-touchdown, no-interception day; if he's on this weekend, Auburn's secondary may have trouble accounting for a stocked stable of receivers. The Tigers have also had the occasional breakdowns in special-teams coverage, with Chattanooga, of all teams, returning a kickoff for a TD last week. That could mean some vital opportunities for Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith, both of whom will be healthy and available on Saturday.

REASONS TO BE WORRIED
As much as Auburn's pass defense has fallen off, its run defense has improved, going from third-worst in the SEC last year to third-best in 2010. Explosive runs have been few and far between for Caleb King and Washaun Ealey this season -- even against Idaho State, the ground game mostly hovered around "deliberate" -- so it's vital for Aaron Murray to be sharp enough that Auburn doesn't see fit to just stack the box on every play. To make that happen, though, he'll have to be upright, which will be a big challenge with junior breakout player Nick Fairley snarling at him from the other side of the line. Fairley is second in the SEC behind Georgia's Justin Houston in sacks this season and number one in tackles for loss, meaning that he'll be just as dangerous in the run-stuffing game as he will be in the pass rush.

KEY MATCHUP
Georgia C Ben Jones vs. Auburn DT Nick Fairley.
Fairley has been nothing short of phenomenal in QB pressure this year; he's been a whirling, snarling Tasmanian devil against even the better offensive lines in the league, and he doesn't even try to get around them on the outside, either, he just crashes right up the middle like a demented Kool-Aid pitcher and plants the opposing QB in the turf. Jones has never backed down to anyone in his Georgia career, but his job's importance will be ratcheted up even further this weekend, as Georgia likely will be counting heavily on Aaron Murray's arm to make the big plays that will let the Dawgs keep up with the Tigers on the scoreboard.

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