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W2W4: No. 1 Auburn vs No. 2 Oregon

1/12/2011

What to watch for when the No. 1 Auburn Tigers take on the No. 2 Oregon Ducks in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game (ESPN, 8 ET).

Auburn QB and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton has seen a dramatic increase in the effectiveness of his deep ball in the past five games. In the Iron Bowl and SEC championship, Newton was a combined 7-of-11 with four touchdowns on throws of 20 yards or more downfield.

Cam Newton This Season
Throws of 20 or More Yards

His turnaround on deep throws can be attributed in part to his ability to connect with receiver Darvin Adams downfield. In the past five games Newton has completed seven of his nine passes when targeting Adams more than 20 yards downfield, five of them for touchdowns. He hasn’t been picked off and has almost quadrupled his yards per attempt average.

Newton’s success throwing the ball -- he’s the nation’s top-rated passer -- helps set him up for big gains on the ground, and he gets it done in a variety of ways. He’s averaging 10.3 yards per rush on 30 draw plays and 9.5 yards per rush on his 39 quarterback scrambles.

Cam Newton Passing This Season

Oregon’s defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has a dilemma on his hands. He can’t allow Newton to have all day to throw the ball but Newton has shown he can tear apart defenses that blitz. Oregon will have to be creative and get pressure on Newton when it rushes just four defenders or be able to confuse Newton when it does bring a blitz.

Newton hasn’t thrown an interception all season when facing a blitz and his completion percentage is nearly eight points higher when facing added pass pressure.

Oregon’s dynamic offense is led by running back LaMichael James, who can break a big play at any time. James leads the FBS in rushes of 20 yards or more since the beginning of the 2009 season with 36. Only four other players even have as many as 25.

Darron Thomas This Season
Throws of 15 or More Yards

James’ big-play ability has helped Oregon’s offense score touchdowns at lightning speed all season.

The Ducks lead the country in offensive touchdown drives of three plays or fewer (the Tigers are tied for second) and in offensive touchdown drives of two minutes or fewer (the Tigers are tied for fourth).

Oregon also leads the nation in lowest average time of possession on touchdown drives as one of only two schools to average less than two minutes.

With a Heisman Trophy Finalist in the backfield, it should come as no surprise that Darron Thomas is at his best this season when throwing downfield off of a run-fake.

Big plays will not be a rare occurrence for either team tonight. Auburn was second in the country with 58 offensive plays of 25 yards or more (Oregon tied for third, 53) and Oregon led the nation with 27 offensive touchdowns of 25 yards or more (Auburn tied for second, 25).