LEXINGTON, Ky. – Cam Newton was dazzling as No. 8 Auburn spurted to a 17-point lead against Kentucky.
After the Wildcats rallied, the quarterback's grit kept the Tigers undefeated.
Newton accounted for 74 yards on Auburn's clock-chewing final drive, setting up Wes Byrum's 24-yard field goal as time expired and Auburn escaped with a 37-34 victory Saturday night.
"We were relentless," Newton said. "In my shoes, I feel comfortable going to battle."
It certainly looked that way.
The junior ran for a career-high 198 yards and four touchdowns and passed for another 210 more, but it was his steady play with the game on the line that kept the Tigers (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) perfect.
Not that Auburn looked like it during a lethargic second half that allowed Kentucky (3-3, 0-3) to tie the game twice, the second time on a 35-yard field goal by Craig McIntosh with 7:31 to go.
The Tigers nearly gave it right back to the Wildcats when a planned reverse on the kickoff ended with the ball on the ground. Auburn's Terrell Zachery fell on it, but the Tigers found themselves backed up at their own 7.
No biggie. Not for arguably the SEC's most dangerous weapon.
Newton hit Darvin Adams on the sideline to convert a 3rd-and-six at the Auburn 11. Then hit Adams again for 11 yards.
On and on it went. Three yards here. Four yards there. It wasn't the heaping acreage Newton gained during a spectacular first half, but it was enough.
"Our mentality was to win by any means necessary," Newton said.
That meant eschewing the big plays that helped the Tigers roll early in exchange for smaller, more conservative plays that consumed the clock.
The 19-play drive, tied for the second-longest in school history, ended with the ball at the Kentucky 6 and the game on Byrum's right foot.
The senior calmly drilled the fifth game-winner of his career and his teammates ran onto the field in celebration.
"I knew the offense was going to drive it down and eat the clock up," said Byrum, who now has a school-record 51 field goals. "It was unbelievable. They made the job easy for me."
Randall Cobb accounted for four touchdowns for the Wildcats — one passing, two running and one receiving — but couldn't stop Kentucky from dropping its third straight.
"Our guys were into it, played hard, played inspired, played with emotions, made plays when we needed to have them made," said Kentucky coach Joker Phillips. "We just came up a little short."
Auburn's high-wire act avenged a 21-14 home loss to the Wildcats a year ago, a defeat that continued an October swoon by the Tigers after they got off to a 5-0 start in coach Gene Chizik's first season.
Not this time.
"We methodically did the things you have to do to win games," Chizik said. "This is kind of another one in the string of finding different ways to win."
Only after the Tigers almost found a way to lose.
Newton and the Tigers dominated during the first half, scoring on all five possessions. Yet the Wildcats rallied even without running back Derrick Locke, who went out in the third quarter with a shoulder injury.
Cobb then put the Wildcats on his slender shoulders, one-upping Newton with some dazzling playmaking out of the "WildCobb" formation.
He finished with 121 yards of total offense — 47 rushing, 68 receiving and six passing — and his ridiculous 26-yard run in the third quarter led to his own 1-yard burst that tied the game at 31.
Too bad Cobb didn't play defense too.
Though Kentucky found a way to put the clamps on Newton in the second half, they couldn't when it mattered.
For the first 30 minutes, it didn't appear any late exploits would be necessary.
Auburn's visit marked the beginning of a pivotal three-game homestand for the Wildcats, one they viewed as an opportunity to turn their season around after losses at Florida and Mississippi.
Instead, Newton turned Kentucky's leaky defense inside out.
"That's my job — to be dominant every single play," Newton said.
The Wildcats made Newton look ordinary for long stretches in the second half. They picked off the SEC's most efficient passer and kept him from breaking loose.
"It's kind of embarrassing," Newton said.
Until the end, that is.