Thoughts on Auburn’s 22-19 win over Oregon in the BCS title game

Four thoughts on last night’s game:

  • Nick Fairley gets the game ball. As I predicted, the differences in the game were Cam Newton’s ability to do things no one else can do — convert short yardage plays, scramble for big plays on third down, and generally as reader/decoy to open things up for McCalebb and Michael Dyer — and Auburn’s superior defensive line, particularly Nick Fairley. Fairley was incredible throughout. Maybe most importantly, he didn’t tire out like we all expected. Much of this was because Oregon failed to get in their tempo for much of the night, as they couldn’t get consistent first downs and thus couldn’t sustain that tempo, but Fairley deserves a lot of credit for just being able to be on the field and keep his energy at a high level. Not easy for such a larger human. Yet the images that stick out to my mind are those where he completely destroyed Oregon’s attempts to read him on the midline option by blitzkrieging both quarterback and runningback and arriving at the option mesh point before the read could be made. I spoke with some coaches after the game who figured what Chip Kelly obviously did: if we can’t block him, let’s read him, except Fairley, when unblocked, took out everyone. A great performance. (And when Oregon got tired of that and tried to block him and read someone else, he split the double-teams. He’ll be a top five NFL draft pick, if not one or two.)
  • War Daddy

  • Stick to the plan. Oregon and Chip Kelly, however, did themselves no favors by coming out of the gates with a lot of funky stuff they’d never shown this season. I get that you want to do something different for Auburn — and that you’re Chip Kelly, a very bright guy — but that team averaged 49 points a game on the outside zone with a read from spread sets, and the Ducks came out with a bunch of three back sets with a triple option look off the inside zone. Now, Auburn’s defensive coordinator Ted Roof came out with a lot of fire zones and zone blitzes from the field or wide side to take away the stretch plays, but I’m still shocked that those runs weren’t a bigger part of Kelly’s gameplan.  It didn’t help that Darron Thomas, Oregon’s quarterback, struggled with his reads (though for good reason — see above).
  • Malzahn and Cam. Gus Malzahn (oh, I’m sorry, I meant “Guz”) called an effective game, and Cam Newton made some special plays. It wasn’t a Vince Young-esque domination, but Cam did things no one else can do. He also made three very costly mistakes: the shorthopped goalline pass to a wide open receiver on fourth down, the late fumble, and, to my mind, the worst, the overthrow when Gus had called a great double-move and his receiver was wide open. Only the last one really stung because it would have blown the game open in the third quarter while the Tigers led 16-11, but the kid played great. And from the second half on, Malzahn relied on the inside zone with a bubble screen to the opposite side — where Dyer got most of his yards and Cam Newton a lot of simple throws — and of course called that post-dig/wheel route combination for several big plays, including the touchdown. Sometimes you don’t have to be fancy to call a good game; you just have to call the right plays for the situation.
  • Defensive special? A lot of the commentariat claimed this was a defensive game — and most of my points above indicated faults I found with both offenses. But these two teams combined for nearly 1,000 yards of offense — 968 in fact — and featured multiple turnovers and goal line stands. I thought it was pretty entertaining, as it’s more fun to watch good coaches deal with good players and issues than it is to watch one of those steamroller-where-is-the-defense games. Those who tuned out because “there wasn’t enough scoring” can’t be faulted, but you can still appreciate what the teams are trying to do, and thus why a performance like Fairley’s was so unreal (i.e., yes he went unblocked, but that was intentional and it’s what he then did that was so impressive). It was a fascinating — though slightly sloppy and erratic — title game.

  • Charles

    It was such a wonderful game, in the UK it started at half one in the morning and finished at 5 and I don’t regret staying up and watching it for a second. Just such incredible football and such a fun game. In terms of Chip Kelly I think he knew they were the underdog and would need something a little special to win, so he went at the game with a lot of aggression.

  • Jon E.

    Your second point is what really stuck out to me during the game. I watch a lot of PAC 10 ball, so I was really amazed at how Kelly called the game.

    Really, I think both coaches outschemed themselves.

    There were 2 drives that Oregon ran the ball effectively and mixed in screens and play action, while maintaining their usual pace. Auburn was gassed and you weren’t hearing Fairley’s name, excpet when 15 yards was involved.

    And then Kelly came out throwing and going 3-and-out, not to mention letting the play clock roll down into the 10 second area- unheard of. A lot of gadgets and misuse of the field (bunching to the boundary). Then Fairley and Co. get a second wind and tee off on Oregon.

    The Auburn OL was impressive in protecting Newton, who I think is overrated at QB, but indispensable to the scheme (like Tebow).

    Overall, I think I learned some limits to the Spread Running game (red zone GL+5, Urban Meyer made a good comment about this post-game: the need for a big back or QB to get the yardage) and reinforced the importance of sticking to what one does best.

    I thought it was a sloppy, unintelligent game overall, with both coaching staffs overscheming. In the end, Auburn settled into their bread and butter first (out of necessity to run the clock) and came out on top.

    For me, the game was a snoozer- Two struggling running offenses trying to do too much and man passing routes that ended up looking and feeling clumsy an simplistic. Not a great offensive game, regardless of the yards earned.

  • Matt

    Chris wanted to hear your thoughts on this:
    It Seemed as though Auburn utilized the Dig/Wheel combo to combat Oregon’s use of the single high safety robber coverage (VA Tech/TCU). Oregon looked like it was playing a lot of single high safety defense and shading their robber to the field. They probably did this to keep their 8 man front vs. the run. To the best of my memory, Malzahn continuously called the dig/wheel combo into the boundary, and it always seemed to be called to the left (away from Newton’s throwing arm). This left the Boundary OLB responsible for running with the wheel, something he couldn’t do.
    Did you notice the same thing or did you think Oregon was doing something different defensively?

  • Matt: I agree completely. Oregon did mix up the looks but Malzahn did call that against the single-high look, and he got a great matchup each time on the wheel route. At halftime Saban was exasperated saying that Oregon needed to go more nickel (though they were obviously concerned with doing that, for fear they would get overpowered) because they had a defensive end/linebacker covering that wheel. Malzahn also used that guy in motion a few times from the other side in the kind of motion he uses when the H-back is going to execute a kickout block for power or otherwise be used in the run game.

  • Patrick

    I absolutely agree with both Chris and Jon E. I didn’t watch a ton of Oregon throughout the year, but when I did, I don’t think I saw them run much option, and it showed last night. Now, I love the option as much as anyone…if its run competently. Darron Thomas obviously did not look comfortable, nor did he look competently coached running the pitch phase of the option game last night. I’m going to give Kelly the benefit of the doubt and believe that that particular scheme was simply not repped enough to be run correctly rather than believe that he cannot coach the option. I’ve heard some comments praising Chip Kelly for keeping the game close, but honestly, I think that if he had stayed home, the Ducks would have won the game. To completely abandon what you have done so well throughout the year in order to run schemes that obviously were not repped nearly enough is unbelievable.

  • Fairley was a total beast.. it was like launching a ‘bunker buster’ at the mesh point when they tried to read him… I thought Darron Thomas showed a lot of toughness, he’s not a big guy put was able to absorb the physical play of Auburn and come back and make some plays in the pass game.

    I actually liked the pre-snap triple option wrinkle in the opening series (just to get Auburn thinking and a nice wrinkle), Thomas could of had a first down on the first series if he didn’t try to launch an ill advised pitch off the triple on 2nd down, that may have got them into a tempo groove early.

    Totally agree though, they didn’t show any consistant outside zone read that fed them all year in the run game, which also sets up a lot of play-action for them.

    The field surface/traction was just terrible… actually on the verge of a liability (considering the magnitude of the game).

    The best team won (should have been a larger margin of victory) – Cudos to Gus Malzahn on the Dig/Wheel, a great pass package vs what Oregon was playing and Auburn’s defense as a whole.

  • Michael S

    It must be nice when you can sign the best offensive and defensive players in the country from JUCO.

  • jno

    Fairley was fantastic!!! this kid have f… motor!!!

    I was surprised by oregon running game, no ouside zone no fly sweep.
    they tried IZ to double teamming fairley but was ineffective.
    Why don’t go back to Oz away from him and just cut him to slow him down?
    I enjoyed watching this game, it was a good finale .

  • Given the destruction Fairly was causing at the mesh point I wonder if Oregon considered moving QB and RB 1yrd further back. It would mess with the timing of the play but could have been enough to make Fairly make a choice rather than gobble them both up at the same time. Hard to legislate for that kind of outstanding performance.

  • Snibb always, tons of great stuff. Why does anyone think that Leach has not been hired by anybody yet?…Jim

  • Aw, this was a very good post. In concept I might like to write like this too – taking time and actual effort to make a superb article… however what can I say… I procrastinate alot and never seem to get anything done