In hours, Oregon and Auburn will be kicking off the BCS Championship Game, a game we've been talking about for over a month. We've talked about this game in just about every way possible, so, why not talk about it a little bit more?
I've made no secret that I think Oregon has the slight advantage in this game. They have a better defense than Auburn, and their offenses are comparable. If Oregon plays at their peak, I think they win the game fairly easily.
Unfortunately, Oregon has put together only one complete game this season, when they beat UCLA 60-13 earlier this season. Not surprisingly, this was Darron Thomas' best game. UCLA dared him to throw, and he did just that, completing his first 11 passes as Oregon scored on all but two drives during the game.
It is incredibly doubtful that they can reenact that offensive output against Auburn. While the Auburn defense has some weaknesses, they are no UCLA. They are fast and physical, and will make plays. The Auburn defense is led by Nick Fairley, their All-American defensive tackle who has made life hell for opposing QBs. He leads a unit that can get into the backfield quickly and when they do get to the QB, hit him hard. Darron Thomas is a surprisingly physical QB, so I'm not overly concerned about him taking hits. But I am concerned about his ability to execute the Oregon offense if he is under consistent pressure.
The Oregon offense has struggled at times against this type of front. In particular, they struggled against Arizona State and California, whose front 7 was able to get into the backfield. In the Arizona State game, Darron Thomas had a strong game, making throws despite pressure until Oregon's offense pulled back, and let the defense seal the game. Against California, Thomas did not execute like he could have. When he had time, he wasn't hitting his receivers downfield, and never forced Cal to adjust, which led to Oregon's worst offensive output of the year, by a good margin.
How will this play out against Auburn? I honestly have no clue. If Oregon's offensive line has a very good game, Oregon's offense will roll. If Oregon's offensive line struggles, the rushing game will struggle and Darron Thomas will be forced to make plays under duress. I have no doubt that there will be plays to be made. Chip Kelly is too good an offensive mind and Oregon has offensive threats at every position. There will be big play opportunities throughout the game. If Thomas can hit a couple of those plays early in the game, Auburn will be thrown off balance and the Duck offense will be able to keep them off balance for much of the game.
Auburn rushing defense is good enough that I don't think that Oregon will be able to score enough points on the rushing game alone. For the Ducks to win, Darron will need to play at the level that he did against Stanford, USC, and UCLA. If he does this, I don't see the Auburn defense being able to contain the multidimensional Oregon attack. It's simply too dangerous when it's firing on all cylinders.
On the opposite side of the ball, I'm actually feeling a bit better. We know what this Oregon team does well. They are opportunistic, and if Auburn has to drive the length of the field, I have no doubt that the Oregon defense will make plays.
But that brings us to one of the least talked about aspects of this game: special teams. And luckily for the Ducks, Oregon holds a massive edge in this category. With Jackson Rice back, and the most explosive punt returner in the country returning kicks, Oregon stands a strong chance of putting Auburn in poor field position throughout the game.
We saw what this can do in last year's Rose Bowl. Oregon did not deserve to be in the game against Ohio State, but stayed competitive because they held a significant edge in the field position battle. OSU started all but 3 drives inside their own 25, while Oregon started none of their drives inside their 25. Oregon must execute in the same manner this year. If Auburn starts with a short field, they will score a lot of points. Like all teams, they have not been as successful when forced to drive the length of the field. Against LSU, Auburn racked up a lot of yards, but only 24 points, and a big reason was field position. LSU's punter averaged over 50 yards per kick, and Auburn started four drives inside their own 10. They managed only 24 points on the day, and struggled to move the ball consistently, requiring a 49 yard run by Cam Newton and a 70 yard run by Onterio McCalebb to score their only second half points.
Oregon has the special teams units to create a similar situation for the Auburn offense, and executing this will be one of the most important aspects of the game. Oregon's offense has been one of the best in the country when opposing offenses have a long field. The more plays Auburn must run, the more I like the chances for the Oregon defense.
This should be a great football game. Both Oregon and Auburn are great football teams. I really like Oregon's chances in this game, but this isn't a gimme by any stretch of the imagination. If Oregon doesn't execute at a very high level, Auburn can exploit their weaknesses and take the game. But if Oregon executes at their highest level, I don't see Auburn staying with the Ducks.