Yes, Auburn and Oregon play some defense, too
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The television cameras were out to shoot the early part of an Oregon practice as the second-ranked Ducks prepared for the BCS championship game against No. 1 Auburn.
The offense was on one side of the field, going through drills, the defense on the other.
“We’ve got guys doing drills better than they’ve ever done before and there’s a whole bunch of cameras next to us, but they’re pointing to the other end of the field,” Oregon defensive tackle Brandon Bair said. “But we don’t care.”
It’s a good thing, because with the type of high-powered offenses the Ducks and the Tigers have, the defenses don’t get much attention.
All signs point toward a fast-paced scoring spree when Auburn (13-0) and Oregon (12-0) meet Monday at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Heisman winner Cam Newton and the Tigers average 42 points and 497 yards per game. Heisman finalist LaMichael James and the Ducks have been even better, averaging 49 points and 537 yards.
The defenses, well, they’re OK.
Auburn has All-American defensive tackle Nick Fairley leading a pass rush that produced 33 sacks, 20th-best in the country, and a run defense that ranked 10th in the nation (111.7 yards per game).
But when Auburn doesn’t put quarterbacks on their backs, they usually have no problem finding open receivers. Auburn is 106th in the nation in pass defense, allowing 250 per game.
Those numbers don’t mean much to defensive coordinator Ted Roof.
“Right now, we’re a Southeastern Conference championship defense,” he said Wednesday after practice. “We’re working toward being a national championship defense. There are a lot of things that go into statistics. The statistic that matters most is wins and losses for our football team.”
The Tigers have shown a tendency to get better as the game goes along. They’ve allowed 117 points in the first quarter and 84 in the second. In the third quarter, they’ve given up 69 points and in the fourth, only 48.
“We’ve had a lot of games in the first half that are all over the place,” linebacker Josh Bynes said. “But when we figure out what they’re doing in the first half, the second half we go out there and just be dominant.”
The best example of that came in the regular-season finale against Alabama. The Tide moved the ball at will in the first half and jumped out to a 24-0 lead. In the second half, Auburn turned up the pressure, Alabama managed only a field goal and the Tigers pulled off the biggest comeback in school history in a 28-27 victory.
On paper, Bair and the Ducks have been more impressive, ranking 25th in the nation in total defense and second in takeaways with 35. Still, no one will confuse Oregon for the 1985 Chicago Bears.
And considering the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton outweighs all but three of Oregon’s defensive starters – and he’s not all that much lighter than the other three – there’s not a whole lot of reasons to believe the Ducks will become the first team this season to bottle up the Tigers’ quarterback.
Newton became the first player in SEC history to run for more than 1,000 yards and pass for more than 2,000 this season.
“We know he’s a very tough runner, and he is not like most quarterbacks,” Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews said. “He will lower his shoulder and try to get those extra yards. We got to wrap him up as a team, can’t let him slip and get those extra yards.”
Like Auburn, Oregon’s defense has been at its best later in games. In the first quarter, Oregon has allowed 86 points. That number drops to 58 in the second, 54 in the third and 24 in the fourth.
To be fair, those potent offenses Auburn and Oregon sport can also be problematic for their own defenses.
Under coach Chip Kelly, Oregon has all but perfected pushing the tempo on offense to wear down opponents. But between the pace and the propensity for big plays, Oregon’s defense finds itself on the field a lot.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn also likes to use the hurry-up offense.
In the BCS championship game, conditioning could end up being as important as tackling and covering for the defenses.
The Ducks certainly hope so.
“The fact that we practice at the pace and we do it every day has allowed us to get in great shape. We stress running to the ball and finishing,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.
The prospect of trying to finish off Newton and his collection of speedy receivers and running backs, though, is enough to induce insomnia in a defensive coordinator.
“I am sleeping like a baby,” Aliotti said. “Every two hours I wake up and I cry.”