September 8, 2010 11:46:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- Cameron Newton gouged Arkansas State with runs and passes in an impressive debut as Auburn''s starting quarterback.
The former Dan Mullen pupil and Tim Tebow understudy at Florida had five total touchdowns and 357 combined yards in his first start as an FBS quarterback.
Mississippi State''s defense isn''t naïve enough to think it''ll shut down the Auburn quarterback or the dynamic skilled players around him in Thursday night''s game at Scott Field.
Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz believes success against Newton and the Tigers revolves around the Bulldogs'' ability to stuff the quarterback''s game-breaking plays.
Of Newton''s five scoring plays against Arkansas State, four were of 36 yards or more, including a 71-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
"It''s about accepting collateral damage because he''s going to get his," Diaz said of Newton. "To me, he''s too good of a player to say you''re going to shut him down."
Newton was 9 of 14 for 186 passing yards against Arkansas State, but he did most of his damage via designed and impromptu runs from the pocket when lanes opened up.
The option runs and bootlegs in Gus Malzahn''s offensive system are a concern for Diaz, who is in his first season at MSU. Diaz wasn''t around for the 2009 meeting when Auburn rushed for 390 yards against MSU. The Tigers did that with less mobile Chris Todd at quarterback.
Newton adds an extra dimension to go with running backs Onterio McCalebb, Michael Dyer and Mario Fannin, but it''s instances when he pulls down the ball and takes off that will put the most pressure on Mississippi State''s defense, Diaz said.
"That''s where your team is dispersed," Diaz said. "They have a great passing attack and very good receivers, so you''re trying to worry about all that and it creates separation in your defense. Then he can just chew up yards."
Mississippi State''s game-planning challenge comes on the heels of a 49-7 win against Memphis in which Diaz believed the Bulldogs'' defense didn''t create enough negative plays to fit the scheme they employ. Diaz said his defensive players are still "half believers" in the benefits of playing with up-field pressure, a notion he believed was indicative of the lone sack and six tackles for a loss the Bulldogs created against Memphis.
"Really, we just got to get off the ball, get up the field," Mississippi State defensive end Pernell McPhee said. "When (Diaz) is saying negative plays, he''s talking about tackles in the backfield and creating another line of scrimmage. Really, that''s what our focus was in practice (Monday) and this week."
Playing with less thought and more technique and gap responsibility has been a focus for Mississippi State''s defensive line since Diaz and defensive line coach Chris Wilson took over in the spring. How far along the linemen are in that discipline will show against Auburn''s offense, which features speed, a dearth of formations and plays designed to confuse defensive fronts.
The Tigers had 608 total yards of offense against Arkansas State despite the Red Wolves controlling the clock with nine more minutes of possession.
"We have to spike our gaps and get up field because we know we have help behind us," Mississippi State defensive tackle Josh Boyd said. "It''s tough because they do a lot of spread, sweeps and a lot of back-and-forth running to the outside. It''s just basically not trying to think so much and just play your keys."
Boyd believes Mississippi State''s offense has the speedy skilled players to effectively simulate what Auburn does offensively. He and McPhee agree the best and most beneficial simulation of Auburn''s offense comes from their own quarterback, Chris Relf, who at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds bears close resemblance to Newton. Having chased Relf in practice and defended against his strong arm, McPhee thinks the MSU defense has an advantage against Newton.
"We know he can beat a team by himself, but it ain''t going to be like we haven''t seen it already," McPhee said. "We see it everyday in practice going against Chris Relf."