Pac-12: Ducks-Tigers-011011

Oregon loses battle in trenches

January, 11, 2011
Oregon's Chip KellyAP Photo/Matt York"The matchup with our offensive line against their defensive line was really the changing point in the football game," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Oregon fought like heck. Its defense held Auburn to 21 points below its season average. The Ducks made things interesting with a late touchdown.

But when you cut to the chase of the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game, when you really talk about what matters in football, the reality is this: Oregon's offense got whipped up front by Auburn's defense in a 22-19 loss.

"The matchup with our offensive line against their defensive line was really the changing point in the football game," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said. "I will give Auburn credit. They've got a great front four. Nick Fairley proved he was the best defensive lineman in the country. It was a tough matchup for us."

Fairley, the Lombardi Award winner, had three tackles for a loss and a sack and was a disruptive force inside. But he wasn't the only one. Auburn had 11 tackles for a loss and held the Ducks to just 75 yards rushing. They entered the game averaging 303.8 yards rushing per game. The Ducks averaged 6.1 yards per rush this season; they gained just 2.3 against the Tigers.

With the running game sputtering, that put the pressure on Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas. Sometimes he came through. Other times he didn't. The sophomore did shake off two early interceptions to set career highs with 27 completions on 40 attempts for 363 yards and two touchdowns.

The total yards were fairly close -- Auburn gained 520 yards and the Ducks piled up 455 -- but the Tigers' yards felt more meaningful, in large part because they rushed for 255 yards and converted 9 of 17 third downs, compared to the Ducks' 5-of-15.

[+] EnlargeAuburn's Nick Fairley
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIRENick Fairley and the Auburn defense combined for 11 tackles for loss against Darron Thomas and the Oregon offense.
Auburn ran 85 plays, a BCS National Championship Game record. Oregon ran 73.

"Their defensive line is really good," said Ducks running back LaMichael James, who was held to a season-low 50 yards rushing. "You know, it was tough to get around those guys. It was a difficult matchup."

A pattern has emerged: When a good defense gets extra time to prepare for the Ducks' offense -- Boise State, Ohio State and now Auburn -- it seems to thrive.

"You could say that," center Jordan Holmes said. "But we're not going to make excuses."

Still, Oregon had a shot. With the Ducks down 19-11 with five minutes left, linebacker Casey Matthews forced a fumble from Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner. Oregon then drove 55 yards for a touchdown -- converting on a fourth-and-5 with a 29-yard pass in the process -- and Jeff Maehl made a spectacular leaping catch for the 2-point conversion to knot the count.

Only problem: There was 2:33 left on the clock. The Tigers took over and got a huge play from Michael Dyer: A 37-yard run deep into Ducks' territory when Dyer appeared down on a tackle from safety Eddie Pleasant, but broke away as defenders fatally relaxed.

The play was reviewed, but referee Bill LeMonnier of the Big Ten explained it like this: "The ruling on the field was there was nothing other than the foot that touched the ground. Replay... could not find any other body part touching the ground. So by rule he was not down."

The Tigers kicked a 19-yard field goal as time expired to earn their first championship since 1957.

And the Ducks were left to wonder about plays that were left on the field. Thomas seemed particularly frustrated by a pair of first-quarter interceptions.

"I came out killing us from the jump," he said of the two picks, one of which came on the Auburn 14-yard line.

Thomas felt it was Ducks miscues that hurt them more than what Auburn did: "I don't think Auburn stopped us from winning the game. We stopped ourselves."

But, really, it was about Auburn beating the Ducks. And it felt not unlike the Ducks' loss in the Rose Bowl to Ohio State last year, a game that Kelly also attributed to superior play by the Buckeyes' defensive line.

Obviously, for Oregon to take that final step up in the college football pecking order, it's going to need to get tougher up front on both sides of the ball.

The future was already on the Ducks' minds. They open against LSU in 2011 in Cowboys Stadium. That means they face another tough defense with lots of time to prepare.

"We have next year," James said. "We are going to play plenty more football games. We are going to win plenty more."

Or as Kelly said when he opened the postgame news conference for the losing team: "We'll be back."

Video: Oregon's Kenjon Barner

January, 11, 2011

Oregon running back Kenjon Barner talks about the loss to Auburn.

Video: Oregon's Darron Thomas

January, 11, 2011

Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas talks about the loss to Auburn.

Instant analysis: Auburn 22, Oregon 19

January, 11, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It had a thrilling ending, but Oregon falls 22-19 to Auburn in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

How the game was won: It was supposed to be a battle of two high-powered offenses, but the star of the game was Auburn's defense, which throttled the Ducks, holding them to just 81 yards rushing. The Tigers rushed for 255 yards.

Turning point: Oregon scored a clutch TD to tie the game at 19-19 late in the fourth. The turning point was it wasn't late enough. With 2:33 left, the Auburn offense had plenty of time to drive for the winning field goal.

Stat of the game: Auburn was 9-of-17 on third-down conversions. Oregon was 5-of-15.

Player of the game: Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl caught nine passes for 133 yards, including an 81-yard reception that set up the Ducks' first TD. He also made a brilliant leaping catch for a 2-point conversion that tied the game.

Second guessing: It seems like when good teams get extra time -- Boise State, Ohio State and now Auburn -- they figure out a way to stop the high-powered Oregon offense. We don't have an answer to that, but Oregon coach Chip Kelly needs to find one.

What it means: It means the SEC wins its fifth consecutive national title, this time at Oregon's expense. It means the Ducks fall short in a second consecutive BCS bowl game as Pac-10 champions. The Ducks will be the favorite in the conference again in 2011, but it's hard to lose the last game of the season on a big stage two years in a row. You don't get too many opportunities to win national championships.

Oregon ties it 19-19

January, 11, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It will come down to defense.

Oregon scored the TD and got the 2-point play to tie the game after the Ducks defense forced a Cam Newton fumble.

But Newton and the Tigers have plenty of time to drive for the winning points.

So it's up to the Ducks defense to make the stop.

Oregon running game not on track

January, 10, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Auburn and Oregon entered this game as dominant rushing teams. Neither has dominated on the ground. But Auburn has been a whole lot better.

Oregon has just 74 yards rushing with 10 minutes left in the game. Auburn has 164 yards on the ground.

Auburn leads the overall yardage count 398 yards to 380.

Third quarter: Auburn 19, Oregon 11

January, 10, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's not the offensive showcase many of us expected, but Auburn is clearly in control after three quarters, though the Ducks are still within striking range at 19-11.

Many of us -- who, me? -- talked about the Ducks wearing down Auburn, but it's the Tigers who asserted themselves in the third quarter. The key sequence, of course, was the fourth-down stop on the 1-yard line.

Still, Oregon is one play and a 2-point conversion away from tying it.

Lot of football left. But right now the Tigers are flying high and the Ducks are struggling.

Auburn gets the big stop

January, 10, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Oregon got a big play on a fake punt. It got a big play on a great catch from Lavasier Tuinei. It got a first-and-goal situation that could have reversed the momentum.

But Auburn stoned the Ducks on four plays, including a fourth-and-1 stop of Kenjon Barner.

That was vintage Chip Kelly, taking chances, getting big plays. Everything but the fourth-down stop.

Again, Oregon D needs to step up with the Tigers pinned deep.

Not a good start to third for Oregon

January, 10, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Oregon needed a stop on defense and some points from its offense to swing the momentum early in the third. It didn't get either.

Auburn kicked a short field goal for a 19-11 lead on its first possession. It's bad news that feels like a minor victory, because the Auburn offense seems to be asserting itself.

The Ducks got a break on their first possession of the third when Tigers defensive tackle Nick Fairley was flagged for a personal foul, but they failed to take advantage. The drive stalled after the Ducks pushed into Auburn territory.

The momentum is on Auburn's side. The Tigers are playing fast and loose and Oregon still seems unsure.

The defense will need to make a play. If the Tigers push their lead into double digits, things could get dicey for the Ducks.

First half: Auburn 16, Oregon 11

January, 10, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After a scoreless first quarter, both offenses got on track, and Auburn leads Oregon 16-11 at the break.

Turning point: With Oregon leading 11-7, the Ducks stopped Auburn on fourth down on the Ducks' 1-yard line. But then the Tigers forced a safety on a LaMichael James run. Auburn then took the free kick and drove 66 yards in six plays for the go-ahead touchdown.

Stat of the half: Auburn had 21 yards in the first quarter. It had 258 in the second.

Best call: Just after Auburn took a 7-3 lead, the Ducks were pinned back on their 7-yard line. But on first down, Darron Thomas found Jeff Maehl, who beat double coverage over the middle, for an 81-yard play to the Tigers' 12-yard line. Three plays later, the Ducks got the TD as well as a 2-point conversion on an option play to kicker Rob Beard.

What Oregon needs to do: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton got in sync after a slow start. The Ducks' defense needs to regroup and find a way to slow him down, starting with the first possession of the second half. The Ducks also need to get the running game going. It got outrushed 94 to 37 at the break.

Oregon answers, takes lead (for now)

January, 10, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A good way to answer an opposing TD is with the longest pass in BCS title game history.

Quarterback Darron Thomas connected with Jeff Maehl for an 81-yard pass to the Auburn 12-yard line. Three plays later, Oregon got the TD, and then a 2-pointer on an option play for kicker Rob Beard.

Oregon takes an 11-7 lead.

And now we're seeing the offenses we thought we'd see. Both are moving the ball with up-tempo attacks.

The feeling-out period shouldn't be a surprise. It's both teams' MO and then there was the 37-day layoff.

But now we're seeing fireworks.

Auburn jumps ahead

January, 10, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Cliff Harris' interception that wasn't cost the Ducks.

Harris appeared to grab his second interception of the game, but the replay officials agreed with the field officials: No pick.

A play later, Cam Newton found a wide open Kodi Burns for a 35-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead.

The Ducks telegraphed a blitz, and Newton found a wide open hole in the coverage.

Thomas just hit Jeff Maehl for 81 yards.

Seems like the QBs are finding their rhythm. This is starting to look like what we thought we'd see.

First quarter: Oregon 0, Auburn 0

January, 10, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Just like we said. The defenses are in control.

Well, the Oregon defense is on top of things. The Ducks outgained the Tigers 125-21 in the first quarter, but they have nothing to show for it, though they start the second on the Auburn 3-yard line.

Slow start for quarterback Darron Thomas: Two interceptions and a bad decision on an option pitch that gave up a first down.

Still, the Ducks offensive tempo already is giving the Tigers trouble. And the Ducks front seven is winning the early battle against the Auburn O-line and Cam Newton.

Thomas shaky early

January, 10, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It hasn't been a good start for Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas.

His second interception just killed a nice drive deep into Auburn territory, a drive that was set up by a Cliff Harris interception.

It looks like nerves, something Thomas hasn't shown all year.

This, of course, is a much bigger stage.

Are we going to have a scoreless first quarter?

Offenses shaky, first round to D's

January, 10, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas had a first down on a spread-option but he made a terrible backwards pitch, and the Ducks went three-and-out.

Auburn got the ball in good field position and a 15-yard run into Ducks territory, but Kenny Rowe sacked Cam Newton and forced a fumble, which the Tigers got back.

Both offenses look rusty. And both defenses are fired up.