AUBURN, Ala. – When Cam Newton and Ryan Mallet square off Saturday, it will be an SEC quarterback showdown featuring the swashbuckler vs. the gunslinger.
Newton, leads No. 7 Auburn's attack with a mix athletic derring-do and improvisation. His Arkansas counterpart gets it done as a more traditional pocket passer.
Both are about the best at how they do it.
Newton makes moves that even wow his teammates.
Against Kentucky, he was getting chased to the sideline by defenders when he leapt in the air. Falling backward out of bounds, Newton managed to flick the ball downfield for a 33-yard completion to Kodi Burns.
"I saw it on (ESPN) SportsCenter right when we got on the bus, and I was like, 'Dang, I don't know how he made that throw,'" Tigers receiver Emory Blake said. "It was all with his wrist. It was pretty amazing."
Mallett's 349.6 passing yards a game is No. 2 nationally and leads the Southeastern Conference. Second-place Mike Hartline of Kentucky trails by more than the length of a football field at 240.3.
Newton is the SEC's top rusher with 672 yards, and is on track to easily join ex-Auburn quarterback Jimmy Sidle (1,006) as the league's only quarterback to run for 1,000 yards. He's also the nation's second-most efficient passer and has had a hand — or foot — in 21 of the Tigers' 28 touchdowns.
Both towering 6-foot-6 quarterbacks have been mentioned as potential Heisman Trophy candidates. Newton's own teammate started to get into the act during last weekend's 37-34 win over Kentucky, when Newton ran for 198 yards and four touchdowns and passed for 210 and a fifth score. That pass to Burns set up his own TD run.
"I went up to him after one run and said, 'It's great to have a Heisman (candidate) on the team,'" Auburn tailback Mike Dyer said. "He really does bring a special thing to this team."
Ditto for Mallett and Arkansas. Both are thriving after transfers — Mallett from Michigan a few years ago and Newton from Florida by way of junior college.
Other SEC quarterbacks like Alabama's Greg McElroy and South Carolina's Stephen Garcia have led their teams to big wins. But none have put up gaudy numbers like Mallett and Newton.
"Ryan Mallett is a special guy," Newton said. "You always hear talk about the big numbers that he puts up. He plays very smart. He has a lot of great athletes that he's capable of throwing to and all of them are dangerous.
"As far as how he's taken on the leadership of his team, I think he's done an excellent job. That's something I really admire about him. Going into this season, everybody's talking about who he is and what he's capable of doing and up until now he's been really doing his job."
Mallett downplays the matchup with Newton, saying the more interesting angle is the game between two SEC West contenders. Mallet will target a defense that ranks 91st nationally against the pass.
"It's extra incentive that we're playing an SEC West team that's undefeated and ranked high," Mallett said. "He plays on their offense, I play on my offense. It's not me vs. him. Obviously, he's a great player. There's no doubt about it. He can run, throw and do all kinds of things."
Mallett's supporting cast is impressive, too. He has three of the SEC's top 10 receivers in Greg Childs, Joe Adams and D.J. Williams. The only other Auburn player among the league's top 10 in rushing or receiving is No. 7 receiver Darvin Adams.
Auburn tailbacks Dyer, Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin have all had successes, but they've combined for only 77 yards more than Newton.
"You've got to hold this guy up and we've got to gang tackle this guy," Arkansas cornerback Ramon Broadway said. "We've definitely got to red swarm this week. I've seen him break a lot of tackles. One play, I saw this guy get tackled and throw the ball like 50-some yards down the field. So that shows you how strong he is. You don't want to underestimate him. You want to definitely pack your lunch when you're going in to hit him."
Auburn's defenders have a different kind of challenge, if no less daunting. Try to limit the big plays from a quarterback with 47 completions of 15-plus yards and contain big, physical receivers — two issues that have plagued the Tigers at times.
"He makes plays against everybody," Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "He's got a big-league arm and he has some big-league receivers that can make big plays at any point in the game and anywhere on the field."
Auburn linebacker Craig Stevens isn't sure if one style of quarterback presents more challenges than the other.
"I feel like it's just about even, because either way they can just make plays," Stevens said. "That's all it comes down to is just making plays. He just makes his plays in a different fashion."
AP Freelance Writer Kurt Voight in Fayetteville, Ark., contributed to this report.