With just over a week until the biggest game in Oregon football history I think it is safe to say that most of the nation is sick of the 5-week long limbo the BCS makes people wait through every year before unveiling its champion after the conclusion of the regular season. But fear not football fans, the matchup between the Ducks and the top-ranked Auburn Tigers is arguably the most anticipated in recent history for a very good reason. Both teams put points on the board at lightning speed and promise games full of the big, exciting plays that makes college football so attractive in the first place. So while reporters and analysts throw every statistic on God’s (Tim Tebow) green earth at those waiting patiently at home, I will let you know what is important and what is just used to get Jesse Palmer more airtime on ESPN.
I will break the discussion up into offense, defense, then an overview and anything else you need to know before kickoff in Glendale. Today we start with offense.
The Ducks come in leading the nation with 49.3 points per game and second in the nation with 537.5 yards per game. Auburn isn’t far behind, averaging 42.7 points and 497.7 yards per game.
The conversation has to start with the Heisman Trophy winner Auburn Quarterback Cam Newton, and deservingly so. Newton has dominated every game from start to finish, amassing 2,589 yards and 28 touchdowns through the air and 1,580 yards and 20 scores on the ground. To put that in perspective for Duck fans those are nearly identical passing numbers to those of Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas (2,518 yards for 28 TD’s) and only 200 yards and 1 touchdown short of running back and Heisman third place finisher LaMichael James. Granted Newton did have 1 more game than Thomas and two more than James, but those numbers are cringe-worthy for any opponent.
When Newton needs to take a break to fire up the crowd, talk to Bo Jackson or simply watch his own smile in the mirror he allows some of his other weapons to take center stage. Running backs Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb are forces to be reckoned with, combining for over 1,700 yards rushing in 13 games. Newton also has talented targets outside with wide receivers Darvin Adams, Emory Blake and Terrell Zachery. Let us all pray that tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen doesn’t have a big game for the Tigers simply because I don’t want to have to spell his name again and I fear ESPN’s Brent Musberger have a stroke trying to pronounce it. But Lutzenk…Phillip became a favorite receiver for Newton in the red zone with his 6’4 frame and solid hands late in the season and may be a difficult matchup for a Duck linebacker.
However, Oregon is not shattering records because they are lucky ducks. Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly is considered the offensive guru of college football and his “blur offense” may single-handedly revolutionize college football. While Auburn has Newton and other talented but severely overshadowed players, Oregon spreads the ball around to weapons all over the field. The Ducks operate at such a fast pace they usually rely on beating on the defense long enough to make them beg for mercy and even fake injuries to get a break from the Oregon onslaught. Oregon has been clocked at snapping plays approximately every 14 seconds or so, which contributes to most of their scoring drives taking less than 5 plays and under 2 minutes.
While LaMichael James gets most of the attention, it is important to recognize that he does not do it alone. His co-back Kenjon Barner is extremely talented and can bust a big play at any moment, similar to Auburn’s backfield with Dyer and McCalebb. Darron Thomas came into the season as the question mark and the “weakness” that could cost the Ducks a shot at the title after Jeremiah Masoli’s dismissal for breaking the law in more ways than I care to write about. But Thomas has become a leader for Oregon and his ability to control the pace of the game and protect the ball have made him a legitimate weapon in Kelly’s offense.
The Wide Receiving core may be the most underrated of all, with Jeff Maehl, D.J Davis, Lavasier Tuinei and Josh Huff stretching defenses farther than Charles Barkley’s elastic waist band. All have great hands and speed, but the most important aspect of their roles may be their downfield blocking for each other as well as on run plays. They are excellent blockers and their efforts have sprung James for most of his huge runs. If Auburn tries to crowd the line and focus on stopping the run, Thomas and his receivers will have the pressure on them to make plays down the field to keep running lanes open for James.
The key for the Oregon offense on January 10th will be the offensive line. An experienced and athletic group, the “big uglies” in the trenches will have a tough task with Auburn’s massive defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Fairley is considered by most to be the most dominate defensive lineman in the nation, and his ability to penetrate the backfield may close the running lanes the Ducks need to fly. But remember that Chip Kelly has had over a month to devise an offensive scheme likely focused around Fairley. The battle in the trenches may not get the publicity, but it will decide this game I assure you.
Believe it or not each of these teams have defenses as well. Check back to see the breakdown of the defensive battle, it may surprise you. How do you like that for a cliff hanger? I’m looking at you Jack Bauer.
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.