The Auburn Tigers are your 2010-2011 national champions.
In a BCS National Championship Game that certainly did not unfold as I (or anyone else, for that matter) thought it would, the Tigers eventually came out on top, overcoming the supposedly high-powered Ducks behind a ferocious defensive effort led by effective-but-somewhat-dirty defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
The 22-19 victory capped a dream 14-0 season for the Tigers, who shut down the Oregon offense like no team had shut the Ducks down all season. We expected a shoot-out here. Instead, we got a slugfest--and Auburn simply landed more punches (literally, and figuratively).
The game may not have been quite what we hoped for, but it certainly was entertaining--and interesting, in oh-so-many ways. Here are a few of my thoughts.
• One of the more curious strategic decisions of the day came from the Oregon offense, which in the first half seemed to be throwing to LaMichael James significantly more often than they had all season. James was the target for Darron Thomas on several occasions, often (apparently) as the primary receiver, but this represented a change in philosophy for the Ducks. How much of a change? Well, James had only 13 receptions during the entire regular season.
• Fairley is, without question, a dirty (but, admittedly, effective) player. And Auburn played a borderline dirty game (Fairley wasn't the only one to get in a cheap shot). But Oregon took their beating without responding at all. You never want to answer dirty play with dirty play, but you can send a message without drawing a flag. Oregon never did that. And it cost them. Auburn set the physical tone. The Ducks refused to fight back.
• Oh, one more comment on Fairley: He was dominant. I can't recall another defensive tackle controlling a game the way he did last night. He was Auburn's MVP.
• Both quarterbacks--Oregon's Thomas and Auburn's Cam Newton--looked very nervous early on. This was not surprising from Thomas, necessarily, but it certainly was unexpected from Newton, who was so unflappable all season long. He eventually recovered, but his overall performance was, at best, average. I didn't think Auburn could win if Newton had an "off" game. Clearly, I was wrong.
• I'm stunned--quite simply stunned--that neither the Ducks nor the Tigers turned to the passing game earlier. Though Thomas and Newton struggled, it was obvious that both of these defensive secondaries were vulnerable to the mid- and long-range pass. Still, both teams (Oregon especially) seemed intent on "establishing the run." They would have been better served to attack through the air. That's especially true for the Ducks, who inexplicably kept trying to run right at the Auburn defense (and Fairley), long after it had been established that they had no chance of doing so.
Photo: Auburn used their physicality to knock off Oregon in the BCS National Championship Game. (Getty Images)
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