By Dylan Davis
Even though the 41 combined points were what many thought the winning team would score in the championship game, it was still a highly entertaining chess match between the two most explosive offenses of the year. Let’s take a look back at what transpired and how Auburn was able to escape with a last-second field goal.
Pregame: Erin Andrews and Tom Rinaldi manage to waste their field passes with “insightful” questions. Learning that Oregon is confident in their game plan and Auburn is trying to play like they have all season is exactly what I needed to get pumped for this game.
15:00: Auburn kicks off to Kenjon Barner and Josh Huff to start the most anticipated championship game in years. Huff slips twice on the return which sets and important precedent for both teams. You would think the championship field would have a playable surface…guess that’s not very important.
14:53: My cousin Chris Davis is injured (slipping even though no one hit him) on the opening kickoff leading to the ESPN executives celebrating being able to jam in even more commercials into the game opening.
14:21: Darron Thomas has an easy first down on an option but decides to make the brilliant play of pitching to LaMichael James over the top of a defender. James ends up losing yards (and slipping in the process) and the Ducks are forced into 3rd and medium. Another theme in this game is Thomas making terrible decisions that knocked the Ducks off rhythm time and time again.
13:20: The Auburn defense holds and forces a terrible punt and Brent Musberger makes the point that this is what the Auburn defense wants to do against the up-tempo attack of Oregon. Wait, they want to stop the Oregon offense from getting yards and scoring? What a novel idea! Before Auburn starts their drive, Brent somehow manages to recount Cam Newton’s college career without mentioning his laptop, cheating, or money issues. Well Played Brent.
12:32: Auburn does a Statue of Liberty play that fails followed by a fake of the same exact play. The Oregon defense is marginally competent so they bust through the line on the second play and force a Newton fumble that an offensive lineman recovers. Usually you run a play action after a run works, not after you get stuffed. And I thought Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was a genius.
11:44: At the start of the drive, ESPN puts up a graphic about Newton being 19/19 on opening drives. Of course, his first pass of the game falls incomplete on 3rd and 19 to force a punt. Forget the SI cover curse or Madden jinx, the ESPN graphic hex is the hottest new trend in curses.
11:34: As ESPN goes to commercial, Brent says that there was supposed to be a ton of offense and asked what happened. Yeah, because 3 and a half minutes is a good enough length to judge how a game will go. Just ask the New York Giants, you don’t need to play the whole game, especially the last 8 and a half minutes.
10:52: James catches a middle screen and scampers for 20 yards and a first down. Every time Oregon ran any variation of this play, they gained good yardage because the Auburn d-line was so dominating. Of course, they only ran it about 5 times, go figure.
9:19: Thomas overthrows the 5’11” Barner and gets picked off by Auburn. This is the first of many passes that Thomas just missed a big play on. If his accuracy had been halfway decent, Oregon’s playmakers wouldn’t have looked awful for half the game.
8:40: Minutes after almost getting beaten deep, Oregon corner Cliff Harris picks off a Cam Newton overthrow and returns is to midfield. Both quarterbacks look rusty and I’m left wondering why 36 days off in between their last game and this one is a good idea. Looking rusty for half the game before picking up in the second half is exactly what the fans want, right?
6:30: Thomas completes a pass to James and Musberger calls him LaMichael. I didn’t realize they were on a first name basis. This bothers me with sports announcers. If their last name is shorter (and even if it’s not) why do announcers feel like they can use player’s first names only? Do they think it makes them seem cooler? In his honor, I will only be calling him Brent by this point forward.
5:25: Oregon throws an inside screen for another first down. Every time you can only use a great play 4 times in a game that matters, you have to do it.
5:01: Oregon comes out in a 5 wide receiver set which immediately alerts Auburn to the fact that it’s going to be a pass. Why would you take away the threat of a run? Unless you’re Tom Brady, it’s not worth the extra receiver to only have one dimension. Thomas throws another horrific pass behind his target and it’s picked off at the 15-yard line. Alex Smith could have completed that one.
4:45: Jeff Blake’s son catches a quick pass and Brent comments on Jeff’s “remarkable career as an NFL quarterback.” I didn’t realize 99 career interceptions and a 78.0 rating was worthy of being called remarkable.
3:57: Onterio McCaleb runs around the end for a first down. At this point the Auburn offense is getting their plays off much faster than Oregon, but since this is going against the announcers talking points, it’s not mentioned by Herbstreit or Brent.
0:48: Oregon runs the same exact dive play 3 times in a row and catches Auburn with too many men on the field. This is one of the only times in the entire game where Oregon was able to use their tempo to wear down the Auburn defensive line. After killing Auburn up the middle, Oregon decides to go outside where they lose 4 yards. Another instance of Chip Kelly getting too cute instead of going with what works.
0:00: One of my other cousins in this game (DJ Davis) catches a pass down to the Auburn 5 to end the quarter.
15:00: As they come back from commercial, the ESPN cameras show Ahmad Rashad on the sideline as the honorary Oregon captain. For some reason this made me lose some hope for Oregon’s chances.
14:56: Thomas doesn’t give the ball to James who would have walked in for an easy touchdown, and subsequently gets destroyed by Nick Fairley. Oregon settles for a field goal for the first points of the night.
12:23: Newton slips and manages to twist around a throw to a wide-open McCaleb for a first down causing Herbstreit and Brent to have an orgasm about Newton’s balance and skill. If he had played as well as Vince Young did in 2006 both of them may have ejaculated on live TV.
12:09: Newton overthrows an open receiver and manages to hang him out to dry and almost throw a pick without getting criticized by either of the announcers.
12:00: Oregon has their first defensive breakdown as Newton hits former quarterback Kodi (yeah, his name is spelled Kodi) Burns for a 35-yard touchdown pass. Outside linebacker Kenny Rowe gets beat for the first, and definitely not the last, time in the game. Auburn’s pace caused a ton of confusion on that drive within the Oregon defense.
11:55: Oregon tries an end-around on the kickoff and they end up on their own 10. Like Auburn’s failed play-action call earlier, why do you call a trick play off of a failed earlier play? It’s not like Oregon lit the world on fire with their first return.
11:43: Thomas hits Jeff Maehl on an 81-yard strike to the Auburn 13 yard-line. Ironically because of his last name (pronounced mail, as in mailing it in), this was a Randy Moss-esque play by the receiver.
10:59: Oregon runs the Bill Simmons’ approved play where the quarterback sprints to one side then throws back to a wide-open receiver on the other side. James waltzes into the end zone to put Oregon up 9-7.
10:59: Kelly calls a sweet sprint-out option play with the holder and kicker on the extra point. The holder waits until the last possible second to get crushed and pitches to the kicker who breaks the plain to put Oregon up 11-7.
7:16: Brent compares Cam Newton to Ben Roethlisberger. Is there a more apt comparison between two players both on and off the field?
3:44: A player named Smith slipped and dropped a wiiiiiiiiiiide open touchdown. Good thing this was a first. This was on 4th and goal from the one-yard line, so I applaud Gene Chizik for taking a calculated risk here.
3:26: Oregon runs a brilliant shovel pass out of their own end zone to the 10 yard-line but gets called for an illegal shift. On their next snap from the half yard-line they run their only play of the whole game from under center and James gets hit in the backfield for a safety. Why did Kelly not stick to his guns with a shotgun run? Yet another baffling decision from the offensive “genius.”
3:21: On the return Demond Washington slipped (what a surprise) and gets out to the Auburn 35 yard-line.
1:47: Emory Blake makes a more important play than his father’s entire career as he slips out of the backfield and catches a wide-open touchdown pass. Rowe is beaten once again as Newton shows that he can hit wide-open receivers to pad his stats.
1:41: Eric Smith is once again in the spotlight for the wrong reasons as he commits a vicious personal foul with a kick to Dion Jordan’s face.
1:01: Chip Kelly has the creativity to throw 4 straight wide receiver screens as Oregon has to punt from inside Auburn territory. This is a huge missed opportunity to put some points on the board before halftime.
Halftime Score: Auburn-16 Oregon-11
12:31: Newton hits his tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchengheyahsalfkvnxmz (ok so it’s Lutzenkirchen) on a 39-yard pass to the Oregon 20-yard line. So far this half the Tigers have run Newton to set up big chances in the passing game and it paid off big time on that play.
12:18: Cliff Harris knocks down a quick swing pass that he was half a step from taking to the house. This was one of a half dozen plays Oregon didn’t quite make would have ensured their victory. This is the difference between being a champion and being the Buffalo Bills.
11:30: After a horrible 3rd down incompletion by Newton, the Tigers are forced to settle for a field goal to keep it a one-possession game. 19 and 11 are both highly difficult scores to reach in football, yet both are in play now. Go figure.
11:30: They show offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn chewing out Cam Newton and it made me wonder how smart Malzahn really is. He was the high school coach of highly recruited Mitch Mustain, which is how he got the offensive coordinator job at Arkansas. While there, he coached Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis in the same backfield. Now he has Heisman winner Cam Newton at his disposal, so is he really an offensive genius? More than likely, he has just gotten incredibly lucky with some amazing offensive talents, but I digress.
11:24: As Oregon’s offense sets up for its first second half possession, Herbstreit remarks that Darron Thomas’s arm was a big factor in the first half. I’d say it was a big factor for Auburn.
11:12: Nick Fairley lives up to his reputation as a dirty player as he slams LaMichael’s head to the turf after Oregon’s first down. Usually he gets away with his shenanigans, but right in front of the referee on national TV is probably not the best place to commit a heinous foul.
9:30: Fairley dominates what look like two junior high school offensive lineman on his way to forcing a Thomas fumble. Oregon is lucky to jump on the loose ball but Fairley is starting to show why he’s a surefire top-5 pick.
8:30: On third and 11 Maehl, catches an inside screen pass but slips (again) and Oregon has to punt from the Auburn 40.
6:26: Newton misses a wiiiiiiiiiiiiide open Darvin Adams on 3rd down pass that shows why Cam is still a major work in progress when it comes to being a pro prospect. Adams was behind the defense by 7 yards and even a mediocre throw would have gotten a huge gain.
5:07: Oregon lines up to punt from their own 40 and Auburn puts 10 guys on the line to sell out for a fake. The Oregon punter takes the snap and rolls out before hitting an open man for a first down. Brent tells us that Chip Kelly has an automatic fake punt on if the punt coverage team sells out for the block. That would have been nice to know before the play actually happened.
4:39: Lavasier Tuinei makes an outstanding bobbling catch and looks to be heading for the end zone before Brent jinxes it by yelling out touchdown right before the receiver is tackled at the 3-yard line. This will be important in a few minutes.
2:25: Oregon runs the same exact play on 3rd and 4th and goal and don’t manage to get into the end zone. Somehow, I don’t think running a sweep with Kenjon Barner twice from inside the 5 is the greatest idea.
No one scores for a while and the action really picks up in the middle of the fourth quarter let’s go there.
6:21: Oregon has the ball on their own 25 with what seems like their last opportunity. After catching a quick out for a first down Brent calls Jeff Maehl “sneaky fast.” That’s a euphemism for “surprisingly good white receiver” Oregon ends up having to punt the ball back to Auburn.
5:00: Newton runs for a short gain on first down but gets up wincing after leading with his shoulder, this will be important for the rest of the game.
4:56: Casey Matthews makes a brilliant defensive play by punching the ball away from Newton and Cliff Harris pounces on the loose ball. Newton looked to shy away from contact and Matthews was able to hit from behind.
4:40: Without any pressure, Thomas throws into double coverage but the Auburn defense can’t come up with the pick. Fairley and the rest of the Auburn defensive line has been getting such consistent pressure that Thomas is starting to get the Peyton Manning happy feet.
4:11: On 4th and 5, the umpire sets a perfect pick to spring DJ Davis for a 29-yard completion to the Auburn 11. If this was the NBA I would bet anything that the umpire had “heard something” from David Stern about how this game needed to be exciting. However, it’s college football where the leaders are too busy giving unfair punishments to fix anything, so it wasn’t fishy.
2:33: Oregon scores to bring the game to two on a shovel pass to James. The best Oregon plays (shovel passes, middle screens, rollouts, and perimeter passing) haven’t been called nearly enough by Kelly. It’s like the offensive “genius” didn’t see the obvious speed advantages and offensive line disadvantages his team have and call plays accordingly. On the two-point conversion try, Thomas rolls to the right and flings a prayer to Maehl in the back-left of the end zone. Maehl wins a great jump ball and the game is suddenly tied.
1:56: Dyer makes the play that will be remembered forever by fans on both sides. He looks to have been wrestled down by Eddie Pleasant at the 35-yard line, but after everyone stops he gets up and sprints to the Oregon 23. After a lengthy review, the referee tells the crowd that the only part of Dyer that was ever down was his hand. The balance and strength Dyer showed to break away from Pleasant is remarkable and he showed why he was the top running back recruit this past season.
0:02: As Auburn lines up for the game winning kick, Brent makes the most shameless sponsor plug in the history of sports as he proclaims, “this is for all the Tostitos.” Is now the time Brent?
0:00: Auburn chews the clock and kicks an extra point-sized field goal to win as time expires. Brent has the most underwhelming call in sports history as Auburn storms the field as 2011 national champions (for now).
While Auburn may (will) someday be stripped of that national title, for now they are the best team in college football and proved it on Monday night. Came back next week for a season wrap-up. Have a great weekend.