Published January 09, 2011
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Keeping Cam Newton contained, keeping pace with the hurry-up Ducks and keeping the scoreboard from blowing a fuse.
The showdown between No. 1 Auburn and No. 2 Oregon has the potential to be the highest-scoring BCS championship in the title game's 13-year history.
A look at some of the key matchups for Monday night at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
CAM NEWTON vs. OREGON'S DEFENSE
Suggesting one or two players are pivotal to stopping Newton is pointless. The Heisman Trophy winner hasn't played a poor game all season and does too many things well to pin the job of containing him on a few players. This will have to be a team effort by Oregon. The Ducks play about 24 defensive players to keep them fresh, but it doesn't make them any bigger. Only five players on Oregon's two-deep defensive depth chart weigh more than the 250-pound Auburn quarterback, who ran for 1,409 yards, threw for 2,589 and accounted for 49 touchdowns.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti says his biggest concern about Newton — and he's got plenty — is the junior's ability to turn a well-defended play into a huge gain.
The teams that have slowed Newton a bit as a runner — Alabama in the first half, Mississippi State until the fourth quarter — managed to get multiple defenders around him quickly near the line of scrimmage. Defensive tackles Brandon Bair and Zac Clark need to get penetration and linebackers Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger need to get to Newton before he gets to them.
Of course, if Oregon puts all its attention on Newton, Auburn does have other dangerous ball carriers in Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer. Oh, and Newton is one of the best in the country at throwing it deep.
Heisman Trophy winners have gone 2-6 in BCS title games after they won the award, so the Ducks do have that going for them.
OREGON'S TEMPO vs. NICK FAIRLEY
Auburn's All-American defensive tackle has the potential to be the Ducks' biggest problem, literally and figuratively. The 298-pounder is quick off the ball and light on his feet. Oregon's offensive line is workmanlike and solid, but asking center Jordan Holmes and guards Carson York and C.E. Kaiser to handle Fairley might be asking too much.
What the Ducks can do is wear out the big fella with the frenetic pace of their offense.
The Ducks had Oregon State's All-American defensive tackle Stephen Paea gassed by the fourth quarter of their regular-season finale by making him chase plays to the edges, over and over. When he started to drag, the Ducks ran right at him.
Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof says he thinks he can get about 65 plays out of Fairley. The Ducks run 79 plays per game from scrimmage. If the game is close in the fourth quarter, how much will Fairley have left in the tank?
DARRON THOMAS vs. AUBURN'S SECONDARY
The Tigers rank 106th in the country in pass defense and 11th against the run. Sometimes stats can be deceiving. This one isn't of those times. Fairley and the Tigers do a good job getting to quarterbacks (33 sacks) and holding the line, but receivers often run free in the secondary.
Can the Ducks take advantage of that obvious weakness? Oregon's spread offense is run-heavy with tailbacks LaMichael James, the nation's leading rusher, and Kenjon Barner. Thomas is a dual-threat who is dangerous when he keeps it on the option. And the Ducks do have talent at receiver in Jeff Mael, D.J. Davis and Josh Huff, who also gets used a lot as a runner.
As a passer, Thomas' numbers are similar to Newton's (2,518 yards, 28 TDs and seven interceptions), but he hasn't had more than 33 attempts in any game. Asking Thomas to throw it 40 times goes against Oregon's tendency, but it might be the best way for the Ducks to attack Auburn — if Thomas is up to the task.
CLIFF HARRIS vs. AUBURN'S PUNT COVERAGE
One way or another, Harris is a big play waiting to happen.
The Ducks' gregarious cornerback has returned four punts for touchdowns this season, but he's also prone to drop the ball. He's not the fastest of the Ducks running in a straight line, but from side-to-side, stopping and starting, he is as elusive as any player in the country.
Auburn's punt coverage teams hasn't given up much — 5.5 yards per return — but they also haven't been tested much. There have been only eight punt returns against the Tigers and they have only punted 38 times.
Conceivably, Harris might never get a chance, but considering the way he plays, it's very possible he can touch the ball once or twice and change the game.