The biggest story as we lead up to the BCS Championship Game is Cameron Newton. He's been the star of college football this season, and will be the star of the BCS Championship Game. And the biggest question heading into the game is, "how will Oregon stop Cam Newton?"
It's not an easy question. Newton has had one of the most dominant seasons in college football history, has led the country in passing efficiency, and has made the Auburn offense one of the best in the nation.
Oregon's defense, on the other hand, has quietly flown under the national radar. They are 25th nationally in total defense, and have given up yardage in huge chunks throughout parts of the season. But on the flipside, they are 7th in the country in defensive yards per play, 6th in the country in pass efficiency defense, 3rd in the country in takeaways, and 6th in the country in red zone defense.
These characteristics give them a great opportunity to slow down the Auburn attack, and give the Oregon offense a great opportunity to win the football game.
The paradox in this game for the Ducks, is that the key to their success is the knowledge that they don't have to stop Cam Newton on every play. Cam Newton will get a lot of yards, and he'll make some plays. But Oregon's defense this season has given up a lot of yards, and traded space for opportunities to make big plays of their own.
Rob Moseley did a great job covering how the Duck defense has operated for most of the season in this piece, and had this great quote from Chip Kelly:
"That’s how we play — if people are going to score, we’re going to make them drive it. We’re not going to give away many cheap ones."
Make no mistake, Auburn is gonna drive, and I'd imagine they'll drive the ball fairly well. Oregon has been gashed in the running game at times this season, and that will happen again. But I think that's largely unimportant, as that is what our defense expects. If we give up a 10-15 yard run, oh well, we'll just come back and get them next time.
While our defense may not be able to consistently stop the Auburn attack, they will be able to create big plays. They will give up a first down, and immediately come back with a tackle for no gain or a loss. Suddenly, the opposing offense is in a passing situation, where our defense has excelled.
The Oregon defense may give up a lot of yards on the ground, but they'll get stops if Auburn must drive the full length of the field. Because of that, they key to this game will be stopping the Auburn passing game.
When I was re-watching Auburn games, the one that really stuck out was the LSU game. In this game, Auburn ran the ball like crazy, rushing for over 440 yards on almost 8.5 per carry. But they averaged only 5.4 yards per pass attempt, and managed only 24 points. LSU achieved this by playing a lot of Cover 2, keeping the Auburn offense in front of them, and in some ways it paid off. They kept the Auburn passing game in check, but unfortunately for them, allowed a number of long running plays in the second half. But despite this, Auburn managed only 24 points on the game.
I think the Ducks will attack the Tigers in a similar manner. Their first goal has to be to stop the big plays through the air, and they'll do this with a lot of Cover 2. But the Ducks will mix things up a lot, and bring pressure from all over the field while still keeping 6-7 men in coverage.
Yes, the Ducks will give up a lot of yards. At times, it won't be pretty. But this Ducks team, and the front 7 in particular, has been excellent at adjusting to opposing offenses and forcing them into passing situations. They may give up 30-40 yards before they get to this point, but they'll get there.
I feel very good about this defenses chances at holding the Auburn defense to 31-35 points (on over 500 yards of offense). If they can achieve this, they'll give the offense a chance to win this game.