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Auburn's Defense, Oregon's Mistakes Help Tigers Take Title


This is the story I did not want to write. The story of my cherished alma mater's unlikely voyage to the BCS national championship game, and the screeching halt it came to when the Oregon Ducks fell to the Auburn Tigers 22-19.

The offensive show we all thought this would be this game was not, at least not on the scoreboard. There were more "unexpecteds." Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas threw 40 passes for 363 yards. Oregon's powerful running attack netted 75 yards for the game. Auburn had a more effective mixture of both, and its defense rose to the challenge when it really had to and stopped a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line that was one of those plays that could have been the difference in the game.

Still, the Ducks, who led 11-7 and then gave up 12 unanswered points, trailed 19-11 before making a play of their own. When it seemed like their offense was stuck in neutral and the defense was about ready to give up a decisive play or score, Oregon forced a Cam Newton fumble with less than five minutes to play. They drove for a touchdown, and made the two-point conversion to tie the score at 19.

The game had overtime written all over it. Until the Ducks faltered on another game-changing play, failing to tackle Auburn RB Michael Dyer, who to his credit played until the whistle sounded and gained 37 yards to put Auburn in field goal range. Then, on third-and-four from the Oregon 17, the Tigers caught the Ducks by surprise and ran Dyer up the middle to the 1.

"All I knew was the whistle wasn't blowing and my coach was saying go," Dyer said.

Auburn's Wes Byrum drilled a 19-yard chip shot at time ran out, and Auburn became national champions.

A few observations from what was a pretty good game:

1. Newton is the real deal and is going to make an NFL team very happy.  Despite walking off the field with a hurt back, he passed for 265 yards and ran for 64 more, and didn't let an early interception faze him.

2. Nick Fairley dominated. The 6-5, 298-pound defensive lineman was virtually unblockable. He made five solo tackles including a sack and three tackles for loss.

"The matchup with our offensive line against their defensive line was really the changing point in that football game," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said.

3. Thomas might have come of age for the Ducks. He shook off some nerves and two thrown interceptions and kept the Ducks alive with key completions late in the game.

4. The Oregon backs struggled but the receivers played well. Until the final possession of the game, Oregon's defense was the reason the Ducks were in the game for the third and much of the fourth quarters.

Bottom line: The Tigers made the plays when they had to win. The Ducks hurt themselves with missed opportunities and mental errors.

"We wanted to execute, and if they were better than us on this night, they were just better than us on this night," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "But these guys played their rear ends off. Our defense was focused for one month."

Chizik and staff challenged the Tigers defense to counteract Oregon's offensive tempo. "They went out and practiced every day to win a national championship, every day," he said.

Kelly had a message for Ducks fans.

"These guys are champions. I love them. We'll be back," Kelly said.

This fan can only hope.