2011 BCS Title Game: Ducks should fly past Tigers

Posted: January 10, 2011 in BCS, college football, Preview, Vince Mullins
Tags: , , , , , ,

Part two of my BCS National Championship Game preview gets to the heart of the matter: what are Oregon and Auburn are likely to do to each other in the perfect conditions of Cardinal Stadium in Glendale, AZ?

DuckyLearn to Ducky – wings of steel will be needed in the 2011 BCS National Championship (Bleacher Report)

If I had to rank my “spread offense gurus”, the Top 5 in no particular order would be Mike Leach, Dana Holgerson, Tony Franklin, Chip Kelly and Gus Malzahn. I think that is what makes this game such a treat (and also why the inability of Leach to get another head coaching gig astounds me) – we are truly witnessing the pinnacle of offensive football operations. Should be a great show for college football freaks and casual fans alike.

Matchups, links, deconstruction of Vegas sentiment and my pick for Ducky to get his push-ups on more than Mike the Tiger after the jump.

When Oregon has the ball

Both Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn expand offensive football into the fourth dimension – this decade of offensive innovation is all about the pace of play, using time to their advantage in addition to the physics of the field (width versus tight formations, height of the pass versus the run, and finally length of passes versus short passes). Malzahn slowed things down a bit for Auburn from the pace of his Tulsa offenses, but Kelly has kept the pedal down to the tune of 79 plays per game in 2010.

The only star on Auburn defense is All-American Nick Fairley, and the #54 ranked Tiger defense remains the weak link in this otherwise excellent matchup. One piece of the Tigers coaching emphasis that I read after the SEC Championship game will not help Auburn D at all – DL coach Tracy Rocker celebrated the emergence of younger DLs that they could cycle in to surround and complement Lombardi Award winning DT Fairly in the victory over South Carolina. There is absolutely no way that the Ducks offense will allow for such a rotation as they snap the ball with 18-20 seconds on the play clock.  I do expect the 37 days of prep time will allow defensive guru / head coach Gene Chizik some time to close this immense gap, but a gap will still exist.

Nick FairleyAuburn’s Nick Fairley excels at talking and tackling, 2010 ALl-AMerican DT and Lombardi Trophy winner (Icon SMI)

One thing we won’t know until game time – How will Oregon attack Fairley, one of the most disruptive defenders in the game? In the spread option there are multiple blocking schemes for the zone read leaving one defender unblocked, charging Oregon QB Darron Thomas with making the proper run-handoff decision.  Will they block down with a tackle and leave ends like Antoine Carter unblocked, or will they man up and leave Fairley alone? Leaving Fairley free feels like a Sun Tzu “indirect attack” of the enemy as Fairly chooses his own course and if too aggressive will take himself right out of the play.

Heisman Trophy Finalist RB LaMichael James plus backup Kenjon Barner supplied fantastic highlights throughout the season, and WR Jeff Maehl delivered consistently when defenses chose to load the box and dare QB Darron Thomas to pass. Scheming a defense versus Chip Kelly’s Ducks must be like Russian Roulette with three bullets – you have a 50-50 shot of making it out alive. Or, like Cal you could just play dead or do your best Vlade Divac impersonation and hope the refs do not cite you for fraud.

The Auburn defense must produce its game of the year – even Cam Newton won’t be able to outproduce the Ducks if Oregon racks up 50+. Others point to last season’s tape of Ohio State containing the Ducks offense as  model, but Darron Thomas is a much more proficient passer while lagging Jeremiah Masoli a bit in the running department. In addition, I have a hard time saying that this Auburn unit possesses anywhere near the talent of those Buckeyes.

Oregon Offense FCB rank #2, Auburn Defense rank #54 (See part one Stats for more)

When Auburn has the ball

Recall that Auburn runs fewer plays then Oregon on average, but focus significantly more on the run with 70% of playcalls. Granted, anyone who watches Auburn football knows that Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton barely stays 4 seconds in the pocket before calling his own number to go all Optimus Prime on opposing linebackers and backs. But highlights abound of defenses crowding the line only to get thrown over the top to the electric WR Darvin Adams (89) or the seemingly massive Terrel Zachery. Don’t forget soph Emory Blake (son of former NFL QB Jeff) who shares the team lead with seven TD catches.

One of my favorite names in college football is the talented and efficient receiving TE Philip Lutzenkirchen (LUTS-en-KIRK-un) who made the best of his 13 catches with five TDs. His last name proved a useful exaltation calling others to drink when he scored this season – among my group, the Lutzenkirchen beverage of choice has been a Tucher hefeweizen with lemon, so if you need a drinking game for the championship this should be easy to acquire and explain to the newbies. In my research for the title game, I also found an appropriate soundtrack should he score on Monday night…

Oregon will struggle against the ballast of the Auburn senior-laden offensive line, which averages about 40 pounds more per man and includes all-Everything, starting-since-Day-One-as-a freshman LT Lee Ziemba. The Auburn line is pretty athletic also as Malzahn asks them to get out into space despite their 300 pound averages, so expect that Oregon since the October 2 Stanford game. One would suppose a solid caching staff would run 70% of the time behind this quality offensive line with four seniors and one junior.

I highlighted the Oregon defense as a real value in the fantasy preseason, but they far exceeded my bullish expectations – 9th in the BLITZindex, top ten in pass efficiency defense and tackle for loss, also 12th in nation in scoring defense (18.42/gm). Of course all of these numbers will be severely tested – if All-American CB/PR Cliff Harris cannot contain receivers, or if LB Casey Matthews cannot support the line of scrimmage, this will be a long night. Oregon’s defense did a poor job of stopping Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor in last season’s Rose Bowl, but in Ducks defense Pryor pulled at least three rabbits from his hat for big plays and was bottled up otherwise. Pryor seems to do that a lot in big games.

Auburn possesses an embarrassment of riches at the RB position – top recruit Michael Dyer catches most of the media attention due to his power-speed combo, and speedy Onterio McCalebb emerged more as the season progressed with multiple long TDs to secure Tiger wins. These guys must be good if they keep the talented Mario Fannin at bay. Interesting stat – with minimal production from Dyer (50) and Adams (70), the Tigers will have four players with over 1000 yards from scrimmage this season.

You may recognize I haven’t mentioned the star of the game, and I admit I did this on purpose. Analysis of Cam Newton reached saturation levels just short of Tim Tebow 2008 this season, and any Heisman Trophy winner in this internet media age deserves it (both good and bad). I ran out of adjectives to describe him sometime around Halloween, and Daniel Freer tired of naming newton Player of the Week also. So at the risk of wasting bytes, lets just settle on “as goes Cam Newton, so goes the Auburn offense.” It is hard to bet against him, but he hasn’t reached the level of Adam Vinatieri or Tim Tebow in college in that respect for me yet. If the guy can keep his head throughout the entire recruiting scandal, he should be able to do so on college football’s greatest stage. If you don’t stop #2, you will step in #2.

I must remind readers of the “I told You So” moment from this season’s Expert Mock Draft hosted by Athlon Sports this season – I picked up Cam Newton in the 11th round andd let the cat out of the bag of my 40TD expectations for him in the Auburn offense. After penning this analysis, I priced Cam out of every other single draft I participated in. My favorite macro-college football blogger/analyst Dr. Saturday posted a glowing but even handed preview also, completely destroying the fantasy value of 2010 for me.

In the end, I like the Ducks defense chances a lot more than the Tigers – The Ducks only allowed 25 touchdowns this season, while Auburn allowed 40.

Deconstructing Vegas Sentiment

So the big money guys set the line weeks ago at Auburn favored by 2.5, and it has fluttered between that and 3 as books compete for money flow. Given the Over/under 74, Vegas expects Auburn 38-35 victory. Given that most Heisman Winners do not produce wins in the title games, and the Trophy expands the “valuation” of his team, lots of flow goes to the underdog for value. Most books are begging bettors to take Auburn at even odds whereas it is -120 (bet 120 to win 100) to get the 3 points on the Oregon side. SportsInsights.com show a Fibonacci-like division of moneyline selections with 62% going with Auburn.

Bottom line: more money is going to the Ducks, Vegas not willing to budge on the spread but willing to sweeten the odds to balance out the money flow. Value on the Ducks unless late money moves the line.


This is what the BCS designs to do each year, produce the best matchup based on the regular season performances – nothing else. One could have made the argument to include TCU in the Championship Game but once you factor in the strength of schedule you have to agree with Auburn and Oregon.

As I highlight above (and many computer models back me up on this), Oregon is undervalued. The weak link in the matchup is the Auburn defense, and since both special teams rate similarly that is the only hole I see in the game.

Oregon 42 – Auburn 32


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