Editor’s Note: Ten years ago on this date, Auburn improved to 13-0, winning the SEC Championship during one of the greatest seasons in program history. Each week, we’re taking you back in time to relive the journey to the 2010 National Championship.
AUBURN, Ala. – When they met for the first time more than two months earlier, South Carolina was ranked higher than Auburn.
Thanks to Cam Newton’s five touchdowns (three rush, two pass), No. 17 Auburn overcame a 13-point deficit to defeat the No. 12 Gamecocks 35-27 on Sept. 25, 2010 on the Plains.
After eight more games – and eight more Auburn wins, Auburn and South Carolina matched up again, with the Tigers now ranked No. 2 and the Gamecocks No. 18.
In the first meeting, Newton produced more rushing yards (176) than passing (158). In the rematch, Air Cam took flight.
Newton completed 17 of 28 passes for a career-high 335 yards and four touchdowns while adding 73 yards rushing on 14 carries with two TDs.
Auburn started fast and never let up. The Tigers scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, marching 77 yards in just four plays on the opening drive en route to a 21-7 lead after the first quarter.
The Gamecocks scored with 16 seconds left in the first half to pull within 21-14, but Auburn delivered a knockout punch as the half ended when Newton fired from Auburn’s half of the field, connecting with Darvin Adams on a deflection in the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown, the first score in a string of 28 unanswered points for the Tigers.
Auburn won 56-17, securing a trip to Glendale, Arizona, to play Oregon for the national championship a month later.
“We were playing our best football,” recalled 2010 offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn a decade later. “Our team improved each game. We were ready to play. A whole lot of confidence from our players and coaches going into that game.”
IMPACT PLAYER: CAM NEWTON
In two games against the Gamecocks, Newton contributed an astounding 11 touchdowns: six passing and five rushing. One week later, he would be in New York City to receive the Heisman Trophy.
“If you look over a 13-game span, I’ve never seen anything like it, to be honest with you,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “It’s running the ball, it’s throwing the ball. Usually great quarterbacks do one or the other better. I think God’s blessed Cameron with the ability to be really, really good at both. He’s probably the best football player I’ve ever seen.”
PLAY OF THE GAME: T-BELL’S PICK SIX
If Auburn’s 51-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half did not serve as a dagger, T’Sharvan Bell’s interception return for a touchdown certainly did. Thirty seconds after Newton’s second touchdown run put Auburn ahead 35-14 in the middle of the third quarter, Bell put the game out of reach.
With the Gamecocks facing third-and-long, Auburn called a blitz. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof advised Bell, a defensive back, to be prepared for a screen pass.
“We come out in the exact formation that we want,” Bell said. “The blitz is on. We’re not making any checks. (Stephen) Garcia snaps the ball, and initially I’m just going for the quarterback. It slipped my mind about the screen. I probably took about three or four steps and was like ‘Woah, woah, I got here too easy.’ So I kind of put the brakes on, and he throws the ball right to me.”
A former high school quarterback, Bell intercepted the pass and raced 10 yards for a touchdown, looking up to the corner of the Georgia Dome where his mother and three brothers were cheering after driving up from central Florida.
“Right when I ran into the end zone, I could see my family,” Bell said. “It was just a surreal moment to score a touchdown and have them be right there in the corner to witness it.”
The Tigers tacked on two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Bell finished with a season-high nine tackles.
KEY STAT: 217 receiving yards for DARVIN ADAMS
Many an electrifying receiver had played in the first 18 editions of the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, including several who played for the Fun ‘n’ Gun offense South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier created at his previous coaching stop at Florida.
But none had ever accumulated as many receiving yards as the 217 Auburn’s Darvin Adams accumulated in 2010 vs. the Gamecocks, with 51 yards coming on the final play of the first half on a play the Tigers repped every Thursday in practice.
“It was executed very well,” Malzahn said. “Cam rolled right and got a good block by Mario Fannin, had the perfect trajectory. He threw it up and Darvin Adams made that play. That was a really good moment.”
“We’ve been in that situation before in practice, and repetition is the key to success,” Newton said. “Coach Malzahn watches us in what we’re supposed to do in different situations, and when the time came for us to make a play for that, Darvin did an excellent job. The offensive line did an excellent job protecting, so it gave me time to throw the football.”
As pivotal as was Adams’ 51-yarder at the end of the first half, it wasn’t his longest reception or his only TD. Late in the first quarter, his 54-yard touchdown catch gave Auburn a 21-7 lead.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
“I couldn’t be more proud of our football team, and our fans deserve this. The Auburn family deserves it. Our football team has been probably one of the most resilient group of young men I’ve seen in 25 years of doing this. Everything they got tonight they deserved. They worked extremely hard over the last four months to be able to get to this point. They’re brothers and they have a lot of love in that locker room between them. I think that’s one of the huge reasons we’re sitting where we’re at. As I told them before the game, I felt like this was going to be our finest hour tonight. I felt like we were going to play great. They were prepared. They were focused. They were locked in. And I think they played like it.” – Gene Chizik
“Words can’t explain how I feel right now. 365 days ago from this date I was at Blinn College, winning a junior college national championship. It’s a wonder what God can do in a person’s life, in such quick fashion.I thank him every single day, thanking him for blessing me with so many guys that are influential in my life, directing me in the right ways. And I can’t even be happier than I am right now.” – Cam Newton
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer