Auburn’s Fairley lives up to rep
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Nick Fairley lived up to his reputation in the BCS championship game, good and bad.
Dirty, dominant. Maybe both.
The All-American defensive tackle was unblockable at times, yes. He also got a personal foul in No. 1 Auburn’s 22-19 victory over No. 2 Oregon on Monday night.
Fairley was flagged at the end of a run by LaMichael James for twisting an Oregon player’s helmet. He had the elusive James slip out of his grasp on the next play, then plowed into quarterback Darron Thomas from behind to jar the ball loose and help end an Oregon drive.
James and Fairley, who met on the awards circuit, chatted briefly after the game.
“It was nothing bad. It was all love,” James said. “I was calling him a cheater because he kept grabbing my facemask. He really is a good guy. He was a competitor.”
Asked how he can be nice off the field and not-so-nice on it, Fairley said: “You just have to know how to turn on and off the switch.”
Leading up to the game, Thomas said the Ducks had seen Fairley make “a lot of dirty plays” on film. That echoed the sentiment of some rival Southeastern Conference fans and rivals.
The accusations have hardly diminished Auburn fans’ affection for the 300-pounder. He got a huge roar from the crowd when he was announced as the defensive MVP.
Oregon didn’t fare much better than the SEC offenses against the junior college transfer who went from mostly unknown to the Lombardi Award winner as the nation’s top lineman. He’ll be a likely Top 10 pick if he chooses to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
“Nick Fairley proved he’s the best defensive lineman in the country,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said.
Against Oregon, Fairley had a hand in some of Auburn’s biggest defensive plays.
Fairley’s hard hit on Thomas led to Zac Etheridge’s first-quarter interception.
He also came up big in the Tigers’ third-quarter goal line stand. Oregon running back Kenjon Barner appeared headed into the end zone on third down, but Fairley tripped him up at the 1. Linebacker Josh Bynes stopped Barner on fourth down.
“It feels good to take part in this win,” Fairley said. “Our whole team went out there and did a terrific job. We did everything that we planned. Yeah, we knew they had an amazing offense but we just went out there and tried to contain them and I thought we did a pretty good job.”
Indeed, he helped push back the nation’s top scoring offense.
“I could not be more proud of our defense,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “For one month, our defense was bound and determined to show up and play the best game of their life.”
And like usual, Fairley was in the middle of it. How disruptive was he?
“Just like he usually is,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “That’s why he’s going to make a bunch of money one day.”
Fairley might have been running out of steam on the Ducks’ game-tying drive in the final minutes. He knelt on one knee when Thomas was checking to other plays and was mostly negated, besides one pressure when his hand all but covered the quarterbacks’ facemask.
The Ducks mostly double-teamed him on their tying touchdown drive after recovering an Auburn fumble near midfield. He logged one pressure on Thomas, but also jumped offsides on second down from the 4. Oregon doubled up on Fairley and went to the opposite side for a 2-yard touchdown pass to James.
Lesser heralded Auburn defenders also came through. Safety Mike McNeil, who took over when Aairon Savage was injured, had 14 tackles – 12 of them solo stops. And fellow tackle Mike Blanc tackled James for a safety.
“Their defensive line is really good,” James said. “It is really tough to get around those guys. It really was a difficult matchup. Fairley really is a great player and so is No. 17 (Bynes). They just have great defenders in their front four.”