Auburn vs. Oregon
Tostitos BCS National Championship
January 10, 2011 ESPN 7:30 pm CST
It’s the grand finale of the college football season and it features two outsiders who have risen to the top ranks and are now playing for the big crystal trophy. Oregon got here by running over the PAC-10. Auburn got here by surviving the SEC gauntlet and a host of NCAA investigations and allegations. Let’s take a look at the match-ups.
Auburn’s Cam Newton’s stats led him to the Heisman trophy. He’s thrown for 2,589 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. Add in the 1,401 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns on the ground and you truly realize how important he is to Auburn’s offensive plan. In fact, he is the Auburn offensive plan. The last two opponents—Alabama and South Carolina—were able to limit his rushing but couldn’t keep him from making plays with his arm.
Oregon’s Darron Thomas doesn’t have the gaudy numbers of Newton but he’s no slouch. He’s thrown for 2,518 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. Thomas has done it by throwing 75 more passes than Newton. He adds in 488 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns as well. He’s not the linchpin of the Oregon offense but he’s very important in making reads in its running game, and he’s very good at it. Thomas also has a big time arm when it comes to throwing the deep ball, rounding out the Ducks attack.
Auburn’s best running back is the quarterback, but that’s not to say the other guys aren’t important. If you factor out Newton’s rushing, this crew still went for 1,158 yards and 19 touchdowns. Michael Dyer, the freshmen who broke a Bo Jackson record, is used primarily between the tackles. Onterio McCalebb is the speed guy off the edge. Mario Fannin is the utility back who is most dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield. Along with Newton, this crew is a load to handle for four quarters. Auburn’s rushing attack is really about physicality mixed in with a dose of speed.
Oregon’s running attack is all about speed with a little physicality to boot. The tandom of LaMichael James and Kenyon Barner aren’t the biggest backs—they go 185 lbs. and 180 lbs. respectively—but they have rockets for shoes and can pack enough wallop when they need to make a play. Oregon likes to run to the outside and get its guys in space. In one-on-one settings, they are very difficult to handle. Darron Thomas can add in some running of his own but most of the damage done by the Ducks will come from James and Barner.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Auburn’s passing plays are all about the vertical game, and they have the guys to do it. Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery are the established playmakers on the outside. Emory Blake has emerged as a solid slot receiver and TE Phillip Lutzenkirchen is the outlet option for most of Newton’s throws (when he doesn’t toss it to a RB out of the backfield or take off and run with it). Auburn’s crew will fight for the ball against defenders and can create separation in its routes, which makes the Auburn passing game a viable threat to the opposition.
For Oregon, it’s all about getting the ball in the hands of former safety Jeff Maehl. He’s caught nearly twice as many balls as any of the other receivers and is the deep threat in the offense. Much like Auburn, Oregon sets it up with the play-action and it has burned many teams with this approach. Besides Maehl, TE David Paulson is also frequently targeted by Thomas. Oddly enough, the Ducks running backs aren’t used often in the passing game, mostly because they are the other part of Thomas’ play-action fake.
If you took the uniforms and switched them for these 10 players, it would be hard to tell much difference. Both units are the core of the offense and both are experienced and very, very good. Oregon’s crew tries to keep pressure from coming up the middle while securing the edge so the talented runners can get out in space. Auburn’s line paves the road ahead, opening holes for Newton and Dyer. Both protect the passer and both run at a fast pace. These units really are a mirror of one another in size, speed, and execution. They are also the key to the game for both teams. The unit that establishes and imposes its will most effectively will be on the winning side.
This is where Auburn will have an advantage. The Auburn offensive line is much bigger than Oregon’s defensive line, which gets by on speed more than bulk. Kenny Rowe is the star for Oregon but he can be handled with effective double teams. For Auburn, it starts with Nick Fairley’s disruptive force but guys like Zach Clayton, Mike Blanc, Nosa Eguae, and Antoine Carter can bring havoc to a backfield and are very stout against the run. Oregon will mix up different looks to try and gain angle advantage on Auburn because playing straight up will result in a lot of pancake blocks. Oregon’s offensive line will have its hands full with Fairley, by far the best pass rusher it has played against all year.
Much like the offensive lines, both linebacking corps are deep and experienced. Oregon uses its group (led by Casey Matthews and pass rusher Spencer Paysinger) to contain running backs and put pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. They are good open field tacklers and are decent in pass coverage as well. Auburn’s group, led by Josh Bynes, isn’t used so much in the blitz schemes as it is in the rush defense, since it can move laterally across the field and take away the edge from teams trying to run outside on the Tigers—the defensive line plugs the middle. Auburn’s crew can also cover underneath receivers well and has improved in open field tackling through the season. Both units will need top games if either hopes to keep the other offensive from lighting up the scoreboard.
Auburn’s defensive backs have a well-earned reputation for giving up a lot of yards and points to opposing receivers. They also have a short memory and make big plays late in games when it counts. Auburn’s unit lives by a bend-don’t-break (or only break occasionally) mentality. It really has to key on Maehl but even if he gets his yards, it may not matter because Auburn’s given up yards to many big time receivers and lived to fight another day this year. Oregon’s crew, led by Cliff Harris, is better than Auburn’s. It doesn’t give up the big plays and is very good in man coverage. This will be a tough test for the Ducks, as Auburn’s receiving corps is faster and bigger than most of what it has seen this year.
This is simple. Auburn has solid placekicking, good coverage teams, mediocre punting, good kick returns, and non-existent punt returns. In fact, Auburn’s idea of punt returns is fair catching at all costs. Oregon has it all. It has solid kickers and its returners are very dangerous. Auburn has improved covering kicks this year but this will be the toughest—and fastest—group it has faced all season. This could be a big advantage for Oregon if this game comes down to field position.
Final Analysis and Prediction
Forget about the SEC’s past performances in the BCS Championship Game. This is not going to be easy and those who purport such are simply drinking too much SEC kool-aid. Oregon is one of the most dangerous teams and can match up with Auburn in almost every aspect of the game. The key is which offensive line can dictate its will on the opposing defense. For Oregon, it’s about opening up the edge and letting James and Barner chew up yards in chunks. For Auburn, it’s about letting Cam Newton do what he does, whether it be run over the Ducks or play-action to set up the deep throws.
This one has the makings of a four quarter battle, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Texas and USC faced off half a decade ago. Auburn’s been in these close games all year and Newton finds new ways to win when his team needs him to. The Tigers will need it here one more time. Look for Auburn to pull out one more big comeback and power its way past the Ducks for the win.
Auburn 31, Oregon 28