Final Score: Auburn 22 Oregon 19
Not a lot went well for Oregon offensively, and Auburn's balanced attack earned them the school's second ever National Championship, and the fifth consecutive BCS era championship for the SEC.
The last game of the college football season came down to the last play of the game, when Auburn's field goal claimed the win as time ran out in Glendale, Arizona.
Defensively, the Ducks did a good job on Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, but the size advantage that Auburn had on both sides of the line that was much debated, and discounted by many with an Oregon connection, turned out to be the difference in the game.
The Tigers were able to run the ball well enough to limit the Ducks' opportunities, and also to shut down the Oregon rushing game, including a goal line stand that held the Ducks at bay for a much of the second half. Oregon could never consistently control the Auburn defense up the middle.
Auburn averaged 43 points per game, so Oregon held them to about half their average. It was the Tigers' 10th. come from behind win of the season, though.
Unfortunately for Oregon, the total points put up by both teams was less than the Ducks' per game average. The Auburn secondary gave up 4 pass plays of 29 yards or more, but their pass rush limited the number of times Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas could go deep. Though sacked only twice, Thomas struggled to exploit the Tiger secondary with any regularity.
Field position was another key to the Auburn win, as Oregon started seven times inside their own 20 yard line. The anticipated advantage that Duck special teams were supposed to provide never materialized, despite converting two two point conversions, and a fake punt play.Oregon opened the game with an unimpressive 1-2-3 punt possession.Cam Newton control resulted in a big play right away, but subsequent slow developing plays played right into the hands of Oregon's defensive speed.
Initially, Oregon appeared confused when making their reads more often than not. That wasn't a factor in the interception, but Thomas' ball being off target, ala too many Jeremiah Masoli throws in bowl games, was.
Cliff Harris to the rescue, though, with an interception of Newton. It didn't take long for predictions that Harris would have an impact to come true.
The third drive was much better, until Thomas uncorked another terribly off target toss behind his receiver.
Notably, Oregon was not playing all that fast in the early going. Or at least it didn't seem so, to those of us who have been watching them quite a lot in recent seasons.
In part due to the three turnovers, but also the defenses, especially Oregon's, the supposed shootout was a 0-0 game when the Ducks started their last drive of the first quarter, and shifted into high gear. Oregon drove 68 yards to the Auburn 3 yard line by the end of the first period, but a Nick Fairley sack of Thomas to start the second period forced the Ducks to settle for a Rob Beard field goal.
Oregon dominated the first period stats, but had little to show for it. Another Harris interception was incorrectly denied by the Big 10 officiating crew, on the grounds that he didn't control the ball. Despite the fact it never left his hands. Newton promptly found Kody Burns on the next play for a 35 yard touchdown, and a 7-3 Tiger lead.
An attempted reverse on the kickoff return took too long, forcing Oregon to start on their own 7 yard line. No problem for Thomas though. Jeff Maehl promptly took a post route 83 yards to the Tiger 10. LaMichael James completed the drive, and a perfect pitch on the two point conversion put an exclamation point on the drive, and Oregon up 11-7.
An Oregon mistake when Kenny Rowe jumped off sides on a third down and eight situation got Newton off the hook, allowing him to convert a second third and short by driving an Oregon tackler backwards for several yards.
But the Ducks dug in, and Auburn eschewed the field goal on 4th. and goal from the two yard line. Newton short hopped what should have been an easy touchdown toss, but the Tigers got 2 of the 3 points they should have taken, dropping James for a safety. 11-9 may be the most improbable score that one could imagine at that point.
A blown coverage resulted in a walk in touchdown for Emory Blake, producing 9 straight Auburn points, and a 16-11 lead. It was a critical sequence, given that Auburn would get the ball first in the second half.
Needing to stem the Tigers' momentum, an Auburn personal foul jump started an Oregon drive, but the Ducks could do nothing with it. Mostly because the Tiger defense had successfully shut down the Oregon rushing game, holding the Ducks to only 38 yards on the ground in the first half.
Auburn got within range of a "hail-Mary" toss to the end zone to end the first half, but did nothing more than pad their total yardage numbers against an Oregon defense that was only concerned with defending the end zone.
Auburn held a significant time of possession advantage (3:20), which by itself wouldn't concern Oregon, but it translated into 9 more plays made, and therefore an imbalance of important plays made.
Auburn roared out for the second half, but the Oregon defense steadied themselves, forcing a field goal, which kept them within one possession, down 19-11.
After what seemed like an eternity since they had put together their first half touchdown drive, the Ducks self destructed, with a fumble and a flagrant hold out in the open, which squandered a good start to another drive. Newton missed another receiver lost behind the Oregon secondary though, but more than half way thru the third quarter, the Ducks were going nowhere, having not scored for in the middle third of the game.
James left with a left hand injury, and another Duck drive appeared to have died. But punter Jackson Rice found Marvin Johnson on a fake punt for a completion for a first down, and Thomas then found Lavasier Tuinei for a 43 yard completion.
Kenjon Barner was stopped inside the one yard line twice though, including on fourth down, as the Auburn defensive line again shut down the Oregon run, not allowing a touchdown on 4 runs that started with a first and goal from the 6.
Auburn's drive extended into the fourth quarter, but eventually stalled. Four more minutes were gone off the clock, though, and Oregon was again starting inside their own 20 yard line, for the sixth time.
Oregon drove past midfield again, but stalled again. With 11 minutes left, the Ducks had thrown for over 300 yards, but still had only 11 points to show for it.
Newton had just 35 yards rushing at that point, but then turned in a 19 yard run on third and 12 to keep the sticks, and the clock, moving.
The Ducks eventually forced Newton into a pair of incompletions, after almost four and a half minutes. But the punt pinned Oregon deep again, this time at their own 14 yard line, with only 6:34 left.
After another minute and a half, Oregon had done nothing, and handed the ball back to Auburn with only 5:05 to go.
Casey Matthews forced Newton to fumble, and Harris covered it, but the Big 10 crew decided to penalize Oregon 15 yards for celebrating the turnover.
D.J. Davis capitalized on a block by the umpire with a catch and run down to the Auburn 11, and David Paulson's catch and a penalty got the Ducks to the 2 yard line. Barner was stuffed again though, and Oregon had to burn a timeout with 2:36 left.
A shovel pass to James finally produced a touchdown, and a throw back to Maehl for the two point conversion tied it at 19, with 2:33 left.
Michael Dyer made a game winning run by rolling over Eddie Pleasant, but after everyone stopped, Dyer realized he wasn't down, and took off for what would be a 37 yard run, down to the Duck 23, well within field goal range for Wes Byrum, who has kicked 5 game winning field goals, including 2 earlier this season.
The play was reminiscent of Maurice Morris' run in the Sun Bowl for Oregon, so Duck fans are familiar with situations like it.
Expecting Auburn to settle for the field goal, the Oregon defense got gashed again by Dyer, who gashed the Duck defense down to the half yard line. It appeared he might have scored, but review indicated he was short, with 10 seconds left.
Newton tried to sneak in for the score, but was stopped, with 2 seconds left, but Byrum drilled the kick as time ran out.
-- Thomas completed 27 of 40 passes, for 363 yards, while Newton 20 of 34, for 265 yards. Both threw two touchdown passes.
-- Maehl was the receiver of the game, and had 9 catches for 133 yards. He tied a Sammie Parker for season and career catch records.
-- James passed Jonathan Stewart for the most single season yards rushing ever at Oregon, but was held to just 50 on the night, though he had 39 more, and two touchdowns receiving. Oregon finished with just 81 yards rushing, while ran for 255, 143 by Dyer.
-- Oregon had problems, slipping on the natural grass surface in their special Nike shoes. TCU, also using the same series of special shoes, had considerable trouble with slipping in the Rose Bowl as well. Nike appears to have miscalculated, and also not corrected the problem. Auburn had considerable trouble with the University of Phoenix grass too, though. Very unfortunate that such as important game would be marred by bad footing in the modern era.
-- Thomas doesn't make good in the pocket step adjustments to avoid rushers, ala Stanford's Andrew Luck, even when he can see them coming. This is the single greatest area of improvement Thomas can make, and that Kelly needs to work with him closely and extensively on. Footwork is what takes quarterbacks to the next level.
-- Though the game came down to the last play, Oregon was fortunate to be in that position. Defensive breakdowns cost them a couple of scores, but it could have been a couple more, had it been Andy Dalton or Kellen Moore making the throws. Newton missed multiple touchdown throws, as well as several others. Newton played well, but just well enough, and was certainly less than spectacular.
-- Given how little it has taken to get excessive celebration penalties, especially from Big 10 crews, it was interesting to watch, and irritating to Oregon coach Chip Kelly, when the entire Auburn team went on the field between the third and fourth quarter, and proceeded to run the field to fire up their fans. Apparently calling attention to yourself isn't a problem if others do it too, and your team didn't score.
-- For all the talk about ESPN loving Oregon, Aubie the Tiger showed up a lot more in between play cuts than Puddles the Duck.
-- Interestingly, the SEC chose to use the obligatory conference commercial that usually amounts to showing shots of campuses and landscapes near them, like the Pac-10 did, to advertise the SEC mobile network. On ESPN.
-- After the Rose Bowl broadcast managed to feature both bands, at halftime of the championship game, the Auburn band was shown, but not heard, very briefly in the background, and the Oregon band was kept completely off camera. For all the celebration of the atmosphere that makes college football special, it is remarkable the difference in production qualities from game to game, and on the same network, depending on who the producer is. On the heels of the debacle that was the handling of the Holiday bowl, it is stunning that ESPN does such a good job at times, and such a stunningly bad job at other times. A lot like some football teams, quality depth, and making best use of the talent they do have, is an issue for the network that tries, and fails, to be the leader in entertainment.
-- On the subject of bad media management, Portland's 95.5 the Game dropped the ball in a way that their advertisers have to be as disappointed with as their listeners in fringe and unserved radio areas. After days of Duck buildup, they failed to stream the game. For no good reason, some flagship stations routinely withhold their best product from many of their customers, but one of the reasons Oregon has carved out a large audience in the state and region has been their FM flagship station, and also their streaming of the radio signal of games. To not do so with the biggest game they have, and probably ever will have, is nothing but embarrassing. When the big one comes your way, there are no excuses. Just success or failure. On and off the field.
-- Lots of .500 post seasons. The Pac-10 finished the bowl season with a 2-2 record, and a 1-1 BCS record. The SEC also finished with a .500 record in both the bowl season (5-5), and in the BCS (1-1).