By Casey Keefe
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BCS Title Game: Auburn 22 Oregon 19

The Auburn Tigers won their first national championship in 53 years, but unlike the previous 13 games of the season, it wasn’t their offense which won them this game – it was their defense. Oregon came in with the #1 ranked offense in the land, a unit which averaged 49 points per game. They however would face a fierce and well-prepared Auburn defense which had come to play.

Despite gaining 449 total yards, the Ducks for the most part were stuffed cold where it mattered most, inside the red zone. The best running back in the country, LaMichael James, was held to just 49 yards on 13 carries. Oregon as a whole had averaged a nation-best 304 yards per game, but were held to a total of just 81 yards against the presumed vulnerable Tigers defense.

Cam Newton didn’t have a “Cam Newton” type performance. He did convert a number of key third down conversions, but was limited as far as his personal impact went, especially on the ground where he was held to just 64 yards on 22 carries. Freshman running back Michael Dyer however stole the show, totaling 143 yards and accounting for the two biggest runs of the game.

Championship football is won in the trenches, and this is an area which Auburn dominated. The Tigers owned the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Their suspect defense rose to the occasion and was able to take away Oregon’s biggest weapon in James.

Auburn has shown unparallel toughness and resiliency all season long, and this game followed the trend. Head Coach Gene Chizik had a brilliant game plan which ensured his team stay one step ahead at all times.

No one believed it four months ago, but the best team in land hails from Auburn, Alabama. That’s a fact that was proven last night.

Key Sequence:

After Oregon knotted the game up 19-19 late in the fourth quarter, Auburn took over and had 2:27 to work with. The Ducks were feeling good about themselves, but all it took was two plays for the momentum to swing completely back in Auburn’s favor.

On the first play of the drive Newton hit Emory Blake with a 15 yard strike. This was followed by one of the biggest and craziest plays in BCS history – Michael Dyer gashed the Ducks for a modest gain and had seemed to be tackled, except his knee never touched the ground as he rolled over the defender. Dyer thought the play was dead but quickly came to his senses when the Tigers sideline was yelling at him to continue running.

Dyer ended up scampering down 37 yards down to Oregon’s 23 yard line. Ultimately facing a 3rd-and-4, Dyer rusher 16 yards straight up the middle to the one yard line. With just 10 seconds remaining on the clock, this proved to be the major backbreaker for Oregon. They would’ve almost been better off just letting Dyer score to save themselves a little time for a miracle.

Newton took a knee and milked to the clock down the two seconds. Time out was called, and out came Wes Byrum to attempt the game winning 19 yard field goal. Considering the fact that Byrum is one of the nation’s best and most clutch kickers, Oregon’s only hope was for a mishandled snap. It didn’t happen. The kick was true, the confetti fell and Auburn had won.

Who Shined:

– Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn:  22 carries, 143 yards

– Cam Newton, QB, Auburn:  20/34, 265 yards, 2 TD’s, INT, 22 carries, 64 yards

– Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn:  5 tackles, 3 TFL, sack, 4th down goal line stop

– Jeffery Maehl, WR, Oregon:  9 receptions, 133 yards

My Take:

– This game was won in the trenches. Auburn controlled the line of scrimmage and refused to allow the Ducks to get any push up front. Their offensive line held up extraordinarily well, but the most impressive performance came by way of their defensive front. Nick Fairley and company dominated and ensured LaMichael James did not have any day light.

– Gene Chizik out-coached Chip Kelly. Both coaches rolled with the punches and made key adjustments, but it was Auburn who was able to control the tempo of the game both on the field and on the scoreboard. They vastly limited Oregon’s snaps on offense as well as their big plays altogether. During the regular season the Ducks average scoring drive only took 1:49 – Things didn’t come as easy this time around.

– A real defining sequence came late in the third quarter with Oregon down 19-11 and driving. Darron Thomas – who was solid on the night – connected with Lavasier Tuinei on a 43 yard pass down to Auburn’s three yard line. Just when it looked like the Ducks would cap off the drive with a touchdown, the Tigers stuffed them on four straight plays, including a huge fourth down stop by Fairley. It was a goal line stand for the ages.

– It was clear Oregon was out of their element. They struggled to find any rhythm or flow. The offensive unit was looked upon as the most prolific in the land, but found themselves caught in foreign territory much of the night. They trailed entering the fourth quarter, something that hadn’t happened the entire season – A season which saw them fail to eclipse 37 points only once…until last night.

– Oregon’s inability to play smash-mouth football really hurt them in this game. The Ducks’ spread offense had been impossible to defend for much of the season, but they met their match last night. They struggled mightily in short yard situations. Sticking to the spread and having Thomas back in shotgun led to several disastrous outcomes, including a safety and the aforementioned fourth down failure.

– Auburn was outstanding on third down, converting 9 of 17 attempts including a string of fourth quarter conversions which helped keep the clock running. Newton was solid, but Dyer was the real workhorse. Before it was all said and done, Dyer had eclipsed Bo Jackson’s freshman rushing record at Auburn.

– As expected, there was no quit in Oregon. It means nothing now, but Casey Matthews forced fumble of Newton with 5 minutes remaining was one of the more spectacular plays of the game. Oregon recovered the loose ball and the offense took over on their own 45 yard line. They would ultimately score with 2:33 left on Thomas’ shuttle pass to James. The game would then be knotted on Thomas’ across the field pass to Maehl on the two point conversion attempt. Unfortunately for the Ducks, they left just a little too much time on the clock for Newton and company to strike back.

– A lot of credit is owed to Auburn kicker Wes Byrum who booted the game winner. We’re so used to seeing kickers choke left and right in big spots, but Byrum has been one of the real constants in the college game. He’s Auburns all-time leading scorer and now has 6 game winners to his name, including 3 this season.

– Maybe it’s just me, but it looked as if Darron Thomas was more happy at the end of the game than Cam Newton was. When Byrum’s kick split the uprights and the gun sounded, there was Thomas with a big grin on his face. He had just lost the biggest game of his life and he’s smiling? Excuse me, but that’s absolutely unacceptable in my book. Seeing the way he was talking, laughing and hugging with Auburn players following the game would make my skin crawl if I was a Duck player or fan. Hell, it already does!

– Nick Fairley may be the best defensive player in the country – but he’s also a downright scumbag. He’ll go down as one of the dirtiest players in college football history. His jam and twist of LaMichael James’ facemask post-play is nothing compared to some of the stunts he pulled this season. It was typical ESPN after the game… Rece Davis, Lou Holtz and Mark May had Fairley on set. Do you think they even came close to asking him why he insists on embarrassing the game of football with his thuggish acts? Nope, they decided to just kiss his ass for 10 minutes. Shocking.

– Chip Kelly is off to a hell of a start at Oregon. He is 22-4 in his first two seasons as Ducks Head Coach. Two of those four losses have come in BCS bowls – Last year’s Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State and now this National Championship loss to Auburn. It’s phenomenal to get to these types of games, but now he’s got to start winning them.

– Random question: Why was the turf so slippery? Everybody was slipping and sliding all over the field last night. That’s completely inexcusable. Brand new turf was put in place just for this game, yet the traction issues were as clear as day. I was hoping we would find out once and for all who had the better cleats, Under Armour (Auburn) or Nike (Oregon), but both products failed equally as bad, so I guess we’ll never know.

– The SEC has now won 5 straight National Championships. It’s pretty much been common knowledge that the SEC’s been the premier conference in college football, although this season’s been a bit of a down year (for their standards). The end result was the same however – Another year, another championship.

– On a final note… I don’t mean to rain on Auburn’s parade, but people have to realize there’s a pretty decent chance that this National Championship may be revoked down the road. I don’t think the book is closed on the Newton scandal just yet, and you’d be naive to think that there weren’t SERIOUS infractions “knowingly” made by both Newton and the school.

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